RST 180 returns with new locations and funding
- Mike Raycraft
- Mark Thomas
- Recreation Sport and Tourism
- College of Applied Health Sciences
- University of Illinois
RST 180, a class that takes students on a tour of some of the country’s best-known sports and tourism sites, returns in 2022 after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. But this year’s iteration has some new wrinkles: a visit to Shawshank prison, and funding for the two dozen students-turned-tourists.
The brainchild of Recreation, Sport and Tourism clinical associate professor Mike Raycraft, RST 180 packs 20 field trips into one, two-week-long bus ride. The course, in its fourth year, is part of the RST curriculum at Illinois, where students learn how to deliver a variety of leisure experiences to different populations. This can include anything from managing a professional sports team to running a historical museum to overseeing a state park facility.
The trip runs from May 23 to June 3, with 26 students—half of them freshmen—riding the bus with Raycraft. The group sets out from Champaign and winds through cities such as Cleveland, Cooperstown, N.Y., Princeton, N.J., Philadelphia, Canton, Ohio and Indianapolis, and sites such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Niagara Falls, the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Olympic training site in Lake Placid, the site of Woodstock in Bethel, N.Y., the 9/11 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., and the Ohio State Reformatory, the site of the movie the “Shawshank Redemption.”
In addition to new places to visit such as the Ohio State Reformatory and the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, this year’s RST 180 has another new feature: donations to offset student costs. The trip costs about $2,100 per student for food and lodging.
The Orange Krush Foundation, a section of the Registered Student Organization Illini Pride, gave a grant of $6,300 to RST 180. Kilton Rauman, a member of the Orange Krush executive committee, said the Orange Krush Foundation thought RST 180 was “a valuable thing to contribute to.”
“I thought that it was a really cool program giving students the opportunity to have those real world experiences,” Rauman said. “And going on a trip that could have such a long lasting impact. I thought that was a good place to support education in the university with something so hands-on.”
The Orange Krush Foundation builds its funding base with proceeds from student basketball and football tickets, Rauman said. The grant from Orange Krush came too late for this year’s trip, but in 2023, three students will get a full free ride.
“I would hate for someone else to miss out because they felt the cost was out of their price range, or something they couldn't manage,” said Rauman, who was supposed to be on the tour in 2020 before COVID-19 hit. “So I'm happy that three students will be able to know that their trip is safely funded, and that's not something they have to stress over.”
RST alum Carmen Rossi also made a generous donation to help RST students. The entrepreneur pledged $250,000 over a five-year period to the RST Domestic Site Tour Fund that will go toward paying part of students’ costs for RST 180.
“I live in the community,” Rossi said, explaining his motivation for the donation. “And the community has been amazing. I'm so absolutely fortunate for being able to have experienced the degree of success as a product of the community. And the community is representative of so many different cogs in so many different organizations.”
The donations from Rossi and Illini Pride will be used for future trips and as an enticement for students to join the RST degree program, Raycraft said.
“What I’m hoping is it triggers our alumni to engage,” he said.
Mark Thomas, the now-retired Western District Director for State Parks in New York—which included oversight of Niagara Falls—said you can’t replicate in a classroom what you learn on this trip.
“This class allows the students access to top-level professionals and facilities in recreation sport and tourism venues around the Northeast and North Central United States,” said Thomas, now an adjunct faculty member at Illinois. “And this is rare access that students that might just be going through any program without that access at the level that Mike with his connections and the arrangements in this class that have been set up for these students. They get in the door to places and really see inner workings and talk with people who are boots-on-the-ground people in the profession.”
In addition to Niagara Falls, other highlights included Gettysburg Battlefield and Saratoga Springs, Flight 93 National Memorial, Progressive and First Energy Fields (home to the Cleveland Indians and Browns), the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, NCAA Headquarters, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Thomas said he has been impressed with questions students ask, and the passion they have.
“They're very motivated to learn,” he said. “They want to draw the most out of the experience. They asked very good questions about Niagara, but they also asked questions about the other parks that I had and what they were like. They are able to glean a lot of information, but then synthesize it on the fly.”
Thomas, who retired shortly after the 2019 tour—the last one before 2022 because of COVID—gives all the credit to Raycraft, whom he met and got to know because of this class.
“When you see the actual operations and facilities on the ground and the variety of them that Mike has scheduled in all three of those arenas, it gives these students a real good, deep look in. And you can't get that from sitting in a classroom,” he said.
Thomas knows RST 180 can also help shape careers.
“It helps them in several ways. One is, it gives them a perspective of what kinds of work might be available to them and what kind of organizations when they graduate from the program. And I think that's a real big deal for students. And second of all, it helps them kind of formulate does this track feel right to me, is this a better track for me.”
For Rauman, the RST 180 tour is personal.
“I had a solid foundation knowledge about the trip, because I was signed up to go on it my freshman year, prior to it being canceled by COVID. So I kind of knew a lot of what it entailed, and I did get some details from some class of 2022 classmates. And they've talked about how cool the Niagara Falls experience was, and how valuable it was to see not just sporting venues, but also you went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you kind of saw how that operated. The variety of experiences they talked about being valuable, and then just networking, being on a bus with all those people, you can really get a lot closer with them.”
This unique field exploration journey can provide our students and future professionals with lifelong benefits, giving them crucial experience as they move into their professional fields. Please consider making a donation to support this unique student experience: If you'd like to support the fund for the RST 180 Travel Scholarship Fund, please visit this website and fill out the form.