By Tierney Gallagher
This past summer, several students had the unique opportunity to represent Clemson abroad while learning about their professional career field through hands-on experience. Students from the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management attended the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England, which here held Aug. 28 through Sept. 7.
The trip was a component of a special topics course organized by Dr. Skye Arthur-Banning, a professor in the PRTM department at Clemson.
When in London
The group, which consisted of eight undergraduate and two graduate students, got the chance to see a variety of competitions while at the Games. The Paralympic Games is an international competition for athletes with physical disabilities held two weeks following the Olympic Games in the same venues. Students went to several of the featured sporting events, including five-a-side soccer, goalball, powerlifting, table tennis, seated volleyball, track and field, and wheelchair tennis, fencing, basketball and rugby.
In addition to attending the Games, the group also toured numerous venues and historical locations in London, such as Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Wimbledon and several others. They even watched a professional rugby came and a Broadway play. Students also got the chance to take in the full abroad experience by staying in a hostel and utilizing public transportation, including the infamous London Underground.
After returning from London in September, the group met several times as a class to discuss various topics related to the trip, such as the history of the Olympics and Paralympics, classification systems, and disability awareness and advocacy.
More than fun and games
More than just fun and games, the trip allowed the group to experience an assortment of things that tied into their education. Students were exposed to multiple aspects specific to the professional fields enveloped within parks, recreation and tourism management. They learned the importance of disability awareness, education and advocacy regarding people with disabilities and adaptive sports.
While attending events at Olympic Park and the ExCel arenas, students got the chance to meet a variety of people involved in the Games and learn directly from them. “While in the parks, we were able to meet different individuals who worked for the London 2012 team and some who worked for the United States Paralympic Team,” said Hope Paccione, a junior in PRTM concentrating in travel and tourism. “They told us about their jobs and let us ask questions about their field and the history of the games.”
This is the second Paralympic event that Arthur-Banning has organized and he believes it is amazing how much the students learn from such an opportunity. “Not only did they come back with an wonderful sense of how international events are organized and the scope of the Paralympics, but the students returned with a sense of pride in their country in rooting for the individuals representing the United States and also the pride they have in their soon-to-be profession in realizing the impact that sport and recreation has on lives of people all around the world,” Arthur-Banning said.
Students felt that the excitement of such a large, international event was definitely something that stood out about the trip. “It wasn't like we were cheering for Clemson or our favorite city team, we were cheering for America and chanting USA!” said Rita Penniman, a junior in PRTM concentrating in therapeutic recreation. “It was completely different than anything else I had ever participated in and inspired such pride in my country, I absolutely loved it. The energy at such an event is so positive and uplifting, it was hard not to get caught up in it.”
Bringing it back to class
While the students who attended had varied areas of study concentrations, such as sport management, event management, therapeutic recreation, and travel and tourism, each was able to take something from the trip that they could bring back and apply to their education at Clemson.
Depending on their concentration area, the students had an opportunity to experience or witness their professional field in action. “For example, students interested in event management had an opportunity to see a large scale event in motion, looking at volunteer management, marketing, logistics, funding and sponsors, and risk management,” said Brandi Crowe, a PRTM doctoral student concentrating in therapeutic recreation. “Students interested in therapeutic recreation had an opportunity to be exposed and learn more about adaptive sports and various types of disabilities.”
Penniman feels her experience in London truly contributed to her education at Clemson, especially since it was so in-line with her intended career path. “Many Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists are involved with adaptive sports and having been to the Paralympics, I have a leg-up on the knowledge and familiarity involved with that,” Penniman said. “I am also much more able to make connections and offer experience and participation in my classes after my experience.”
It’s this kind of incomparable field experience that helps to move education beyond the ordinary, for both students and professors. “As faculty, experiences like this force us to reevaluate where our classrooms truly are,” Arthur-Banning said. “Do the walls of the traditional classroom provide comfort or limit the possibilities?”
An abroad experience
Studying abroad provides a unique and interesting opportunity to enhance one’s education, but many students are not able to dedicate a full semester to this. The trip to London provided a chance for a short-term abroad experience while introducing students to international travel and exposing them to diverse cultures.
“I really wanted to study abroad during my four years at Clemson because it provides such a unique experience but I didn't want to be gone for an entire semester,” Paccione said. “This trip game me a change to have a study abroad experience that was more specialized to something that interested me. And I got to go with an all Clemson group, which made the experience even more unique.”
In addition to the 2012 London trip, Arthur-Banning also led a trip to the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games, where students traveled to Vancouver to serve as volunteers at various Paralympic sports venues.