Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clemson University Feature Stories

New Immersion Semester big-time experience for parks, recreation and tourism management sophomores

For 132 parks, recreation and tourism management students, spring semester 2010 began with an impending disaster and fear of utter forthcoming destruction. Or at least that’s what they imagined. In actuality, the semester began a new era of curriculum in their department, and they were the pilot group.

In the end, there was no disaster, no destruction and barely a complaint about the most intensive educational experience of their lives.

Instead of taking four or five classes, all parks, recreation and tourism management (PRTM) sophomore students were placed into the new Immersion Semester. In place of traditional class activities, these students were exposed to the core of what PRTM involves in a wide variety of formats — they took field trips, organized events, met with area professionals, took oral and written tests, wrote papers, improved their communication skills through multiple presentations and worked together in smaller collaborative groups on real-world business plans that will be implemented in the upcoming academic year.

“At first, I was very, very overwhelmed,” said student Jennie Cumbie, who interned with a wedding planner this summer. “I thought, ‘This is never going to work,’ and I wasn’t the only one; everyone was freaking out. … Although it was a lot of work, we were able to see throughout the semester just what we were getting out of it, which was an incomparable experience.”

The idea came from a desire to change the way students were being taught, but what actually occurred encompassed much more than just a learning experience for students. The four professors responsible for the Immersion Semester’s coordination also found that they, too, learned from the students and each other.

“It’s been a great mentoring thing. For one of the other professors to come hear my lecture is great,” said Betty Baldwin, parks and conservation areas management professor. As the students hear us debate, the field comes alive for them. They see our passion and discussions, and that really helps give them a feel for the PRTM field and the discussions that happen among professionals.”

Bob Brookover, community recreation and tourism professor, initiated the push for a change in the core curriculum, and eventually a small group of faculty willing to take on the challenge began the process. For three years they looked at how they could combine classes, eliminate duplication and update core curriculum and the way things were taught. Blessed with a department head who let this group run free, they came up with what is now called the Immersion Semester, a requirement for all second-semester sophomores.

Not everything was wonderful and perfect. As with all new projects, there were unforeseen problems, unexpected changes and unbelievable rewards.

Students were required to be available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday and on weekends and evenings when notified in advance.

End-of-term grading consisted of a three-day exam — one part multiple choice, one part group oral exam and one part essay. Each professor graded a specific group’s exams. Then the exams were passed around among all the professors to make final determinations on grades.

Professors each oversaw about 30 students. One of the first things they did was take their group on a three-day field trip to PRTM-related facilities in the Southeast, including state parks, professional sport arenas, resorts, hospitals, and golf courses. After the trips, the plan was to separate the students into different groups, but they would not hear of it, said Fran McGuire, therapeutic recreation professor. So they decided to reverse course and kept groups as they were.

“We now have a special bond with each other and with a great member of the PRTM faculty, whom I am honored to now consider a mentor,” said Cumbie, whose concentration is in travel and tourism and who one day hopes to be a wedding planner.

In her internship with a wedding planner in Greenville, Cumbie has been able to use much of what she learned in the Immersion Semester.

“I see every single day at work where the Immersion Semester has come into play, whether it's through work ethic, information learned or experience in planning,” she said.

That is the key for these professors, not facts, not history, but the integration of concepts and application.

“When I applied for internships, I explained to employers and organizations what the Immersion Semester consisted of and how we were getting hands-on experience with professionals in our field and planning and implementing an actual event. They looked at my degree with a whole new level of respect,” Cumbie said.

Now, professors know 30 students on a much deeper level, when during a normal semester, they’d get to know three or four.

“We really know these students, what they’re good at, what they’re not good at,” McGuire said. “In the classroom, you know the ones who are vocal and who are excellent. Now we also know the student who isn’t vocal, but is also excellent.”

Baldwin, Brookover, McGuire and Denise Anderson, community recreation, sport and camp management professor, assisted by a team of graduate students, will take on the Immersion Semester again in spring 2011. Plans are in the works to have a volunteer group of professors from the different PRTM disciplines rotate in and out of the program.

“We think in this, we’re doing a whole lot better job of having students come out the other side of the semester, and the degree, and demonstrate they can do these tasks related to their field,” Brookover said.

Disaster averted.

Fernando IX University

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