UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Tariq Tongue and Shannon Hutchinson, both former Penn State athletes, their joint presence on a Royal Caribbean cruise is not due to a vacation coincidence. Instead, they are utilizing their Penn State degrees as employees of the same cruise line.
Hutchinson, a former softball player at Penn State, and Tongue, a former wide receiver for the Nittany Lions, are part of Royal Caribbean’s sports staff on the Harmony of the Seas ship. Their job is to help ensure cruise guests maximize their vacations through recreational experiences.
Hutchinson and Tongue graduated in 2013 with bachelor of science degrees in recreation, park and tourism management. Hutchinson is in the middle of her second seven-month contract with the cruise line.
“I've always liked playing sports and being outside, so with my job here I get to do that every day. I make sure the guests have fun and do it in a safe way,” Hutchinson said. “And, of course, I like getting off of the ship and being on a beach in the Caribbean.”
Tongue, who is at the end of his fourth contract with Royal Caribbean, describes the job as full days of hard work. By day, Tongue and Hutchinson operate extreme sports activities, such as a zip line, rock wall and surf simulator; organize sports tournaments; and assist guests in other ways as needed. At night, employees lodge in cabins under the ship. During free time, employees enjoy the same beaches as their vacationing guests.
Tongue appreciates the opportunity to spend his down time on different shorelines the ship visits, from Europe to Mexico. He also values the diversity of the crew, with 2,000 members representing roughly 85 nationalities.
“I like that this work doesn't feel like a job,” Tongue said. “We are here to give an experience to a family who will never forget it. So, to see the impact that the service I deliver has on the individual is very rewarding.”
Both Hutchinson and Tongue say their time at Penn State helped prepare them for their career adventures. For Hutchinson, a course focusing on team building came in handy on the cruise, as she works with a large sports team that requires all members to work together.
“We have people with different cultural backgrounds who come and go frequently, but we need to remain a team,” Hutchinson said. “The class taught me the growing pains of a team. It sticks with me because it's very true and useful here. Our job is much easier when we work as a unit.”
Tongue echoed Hutchinson’s sentiments and added that his coursework strengthened his public speaking skills, which he uses as master of ceremonies for cruise events, and learned best practices for working in diverse environments, whether it be with people from different cultures or people with disabilities.
“Just understanding tourism in general and people’s leisure time already gave us a huge advantage on what we will be experiencing in this line of work,” Tongue said. “I feel like coming from Penn State with a tourism management degree gives me the edge to go into a sports supervisor or sports manager role before a lot of my colleagues.”