The “Super Four” Course

The “Super Four” Course: Using Experiential Learning Pedagogy in Mega Events

by Dr. David WalshUniversity of Houston

On Feb. 11, 2016, the city of Houston made it official: 360 days to prepare for Super Bowl LI. In less than a month, the NCAA Men’s Division I Final Four Championship will also play in Houston. This is the first time in history that both of these mega-sporting events have been hosted in the same city within a 10-month period. Situations like these just don’t come around very often…and 35 University of Houston students are set to capitalize on UH super4this incredibly unique opportunity.

UH students from both the Sport Administration and Hotel and Hospitality Management programs are in the middle of a two-year, four-semester course to prepare them to work for “mega events.” They were rigorously selected in the summer of 2015 based on GPA, writing acumen, and credible references. Partnering with the events’ local organizing committee, the “Super Four” course was designed to fuse together both educational and practical experiences. As a result, students will understand event planning, event management, sports marketing and communications, budgeting, project management, facility management, guest services, and sport governance first-hand. A valuable “kick-start” to any student’s career focused on sport and event management. To say the least, students from this course will have “WOW” written all over their resumes…literally!!

Top executives from both local organizing committees wanted a creative outlet to fulfill a major initiative in their quest to create a “WOW” experience for the city of Houston: community engagement. As Sallie Sargent, President and CEO of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, said, “…to help Houston prepare for hosting these major spotlight events…(it) takes a community effort.” The University of Houston is an official host institution for this year’s Final Four, and it will also play a role in hosting the needs of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee in 2017. Student engagement is an important priority in meeting this initiative.

As the Internship Coordinator at the University of Houston’s Sport Administration program, I constantly evaluate how to set students apart from others in the uber-competitive sport industry. If we want to set our students apart, we must not only meet their needs, but we must work with practitioners to meet theirs. I tell my students, when preparing a cover letter, “It’s never about what the organization can provide you with; it’s about selling your value and skills to meet the needs of the employer.” In this case, that’s exactly how we were able to create this program…meeting the needs of the local organizing committees!

Gaining relevant hands-on experience is a necessity for students to sell themselves. Providing students with incredible opportunities to learn and showcase their worth is a necessity for sport management programs. And, finally, the sport industry is simply better when students’ expectations match the industry’s demands. That’s the hope of this course: to set a new trend for students, teachers, and practitioners in experiential learning pedagogy. Truly, a WIN-WIN-WIN!!!

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photo by Richard J. Carson
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