Making Travel a Learning Experience

Niagara Falls

RST student Holt Erickson shot this photo at Niagara Falls, where he and fellow classmates in RST 199 learned more about the contributions of tourism to the falls to the local economy from RST alumnus Mark Thomas, western district director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.


“As a result of this trip, I definitely have a better understanding of the RST industry as a whole.”

Meridith Bradford, RST

“This trip was definitely transformational. It helped me get a bigger understanding of how RST management works outside our little bubble we call Champaign.”

Gus Psimoulis, RST

“I learned a lot, most importantly how to critically view my experience as a tourist. The trip broadened my horizons and opened new doors for me.”

Youyou Zhang


These are some of the comments made by students enrolled last spring in AHS 199 Building Community through Recreation, Sport, and Tourism. The brainchild of Dr. Michael Raycraft, lecturer in the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism, the course included eight weeks of classroom instruction followed by a 12-day trip that took students to tourist attractions in 13 locations throughout Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.

This is the third course designed by Dr. Raycraft that features classroom instruction followed by a multi-week off-campus educational experience. He says the courses provide students with opportunities to apply classroom learning to practice, connect with professionals, and bond with classmates and faculty. “Students return from these experiences with amazing real-world perspectives,” he said, “which they can apply to future academic work and careers.” The Spring 2016 course examined the process of developing communities through sport, recreation, and tourism. Among the destinations students visited were the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Niagara Falls, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Andy Warhol Museum.


Alumni play important role


At several stops, students were given behind-the-scenes looks at venues and history from alumni of the RST program. In Cleveland, 2015 master’s degree graduate Summer Xia, manager of global partnership development for the Cleveland Cavaliers, gave the students a tour of Quicken Loans Arena. They were hosted in Niagara Falls by Mark Thomas, a 1971 graduate of the program and western district director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Patrick Kaler (MS 2005), president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, took students on tours of the Buffalo Harbor Center Sports Complex and Canalside Buffalo. Students interviewed a panel of staff members at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, including 1995 graduate Randy Buhr, director of championships and alliances, 1992 graduate Scott Fosler, assistant director of brand strategies and events, and 1998 graduate Michelle Hosick, associate director of public and media relations.

Quicken Loans Arena

RST 199 students toured the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans Arena, with RST alumnus Summer Xia, manager of global partnership development.

Patrick Althoff and Ryne Sandberg

At the Baseball Hall of Fame, lucky students met baseball legends. Here, we see RST student Patrick Althoff with former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg

Students were impressed not only by the number of alumni they met in leadership positions at the various stops, but also by what they learned. RST student Christian Wood enjoyed making connections with RST professionals, as well as seeing the attractions. “Niagara Falls is one of those experiences that everyone wants to have during their life,” he said. “It was pretty amazing to hear what the day-to-day operations are like for such an historic site that receives as much tourism as it does.”


Okay to have fun


Dr. Raycraft doesn’t worry about the fun of the trip interfering with its educational mission. “Expanding our horizons, having new experiences, and engaging with classmates and faculty are fun!” he said. “My goal is for the enthusiasm to spread to the rest of students’ collegiate and professional careers.” Judging from the comments he’s received in student reflections on what they took away from the trip, his goal is likely to be achieved.

“I feel that this trip was one of the greatest school experiences I have ever had.”

Dino Petrov, Economics

“Not only did I take away valuable ideas and concepts from this trip, but I also made lasting relationships and connections with individuals I never before thought I would have. Going into my junior year, this has been my best experience yet in my college career. Thank you.”

Holt Erikson, RST

Andy Warhol Museum

Students visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania