OUS program takes learning on the road

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

The halls of Ohio University Southern might seem an unusual place to hear the real estate mantra - location, location, location.

But the familiar phrase is key to OUS' Education on Location program that trains future tourism workers and educates people from all walks of life.

"You can study the 'Diary of Anne Frank' here," said Steve Call, director of the OUS travel and tourism degree program. "But what's it like to go there? It makes learning full circle by combining it with life."

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Begun at OUS nearly a decade ago, the program now serves a dual role. Its first purpose was to train students on how travel and tourism planning works through real-world experiences and by taking the students to see how luxury hotels work and how tourism sites operate tours.

"I had the idea of taking the travel and tourism students out and showing them how, by visiting a destination, travel planning worked," Call said. "It was more of an education or field trip."

The program's second goal brings students and non-students alike out of the classroom and into the real world.

Taking southern Ohio students out of the classroom and to historic sites began in the 1970s at Rio Grande College. It was there that instructor Bob Leith dreamed up a way to get his students to truly connect with his history lessons while giving them an experience of a lifetime.

"A lot of them (the Rio Grande students) had never been out of Gallia County," Leith said, now a history instructor at OUS. "Mississippi or Tennessee Š that was like going to the moon for them.

"No history lesson means anything until you have a personal stake in it or you can say, 'I was there,'" Leith said.

Learning around world

Travelers who have taken part in these trips have truly visited the world.

Past travels have taken locals to all part of the eastern half of the United States and into Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe.

"Each trip is different," Call said. "We're only limited by time and money."

Modes of travel range from buses to air travel to the far-flung reaches of the world.

"We probably do one or two motorcoach tours a quarter," Call said. "Some have been so popular that we've taken 100 people."

Call said he and others at OUS are constantly reviewing travel options and considering new destinations.

"It's just grown into a variety of different destinations," Call said. "Everywhere we go it's a learning opportunity."

Complete package

Today's programs are far more sophisticated than the early trips he took at Rio Grande, Leith said.

Travelers come to the Education on Location trips for a number of different reasons, Call said.

"We call it edu-tainment," Call said.

While lots of participants attend for college credit (which requires testing following the trip), others attend to obtain continuing education units (required for teachers). Still others go just to have a good time and learn something without having to plan a trip themselves.

OUS' own travel agency, Travel World, handles all the planning and logistics for the Education on Location trips.

"I am really impressed with how many people they had lined up to meet us at each stop," Chesapeake Middle School teacher Karen Musser said, after taking a trip to study the presidents who are from Ohio.

Musser is a veteran of several OUS trips including traveling to New York, Chicago, the Bahamas and Key West.

Planning the trips provides real-world experience for the travel and tourism students, Call said.

"(Trip planning) is actually one of the basic requirements," he said. "At the same time we also (plan) an inbound trip for what people would need for coming into Ironton."

Underlying economics

Call said he hopes that trips such as the Education on Location ones will eventually spark the creativity and business acumen of one of the participants.

"My hope is that someone would go on a trip and see a licensed guide at Gettysburg, for example - someone that has an interest and gets paid for the work - and see that they could do that here."

While it may seem to be a stretch to some, Call said southern Ohio has the history that can lure tourists.

"We need to get over the 'we ain't got nothing here' attitude," Call said. "Too many people look at tourism like they see an iceberg. They only see part of it.

"All of these cities have an interesting character and history. They just need to be told."

Turning that history into profit would not be complicated, he said.

"Someone just needs to know the history," Call said. "It would be a great partnership for a two- or three-person business. All you need is the businessperson, the marketing person and the performer.

"There are lots of successful models in other areas," Call said. "A lot of the research is done. I think there's a chance for someone to make money here."

The future is bright, if someone begins capitalizing on what the community has, Call said.

"I'd like to see a bus load of people once a week down at the Ironton floodwalls."

Fun learning

Fields of study change with each trip. History lessons are taught as travelers walk along the area of Pickett's Charge at the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg.

A Canadian adventure might provide credit hours in French and a trip to Amsterdam could provide art history hours.

"I don't think a lot of universities do the range of trips we do," Call said, adding that having good faculty participation is critical to the program's success.

"It's great to have an interpreter like Bob (Leith)," Call said. "I look at this bus as a mobile classroom. If Bob wants to, he can lecture the whole trip."

Leith can provide, "what they didn't tell us in 11th grade history," Call said. "It's the human or the humorous side of things."

Ironton High School teacher Nichole Hicks has taken several trips with OUS.

"I do it just for fun," she said. "Now, I wish I'd taken history as a major."

Nichole's husband Steve said he thinks lots of people just do not understand what the trips can provide both in terms of fun and education.

"I think if people knew more about what they offer, more people would go," he said.

In addition to teaching lessons to the students, Leith said he tries to encourage the students to not only be a witness to where history occurred, but also to help preserve it for others.

Students on Education on Location trips often perform service-learning projects that help the places they visit.

"At Gettysburg we painted a series of buildings on a farm there," Leith said. "We've planted trees, cleaned things up.

"We literally took a dump and cleaned it up at Perryville, Kentucky," Leith said.

"It gives something back to the community," Call said, adding that the most satisfying part of the Education on Location trips is when he can literally see the students learning.

"When they go out and see this, the light bulbs go off and they think 'we could do this,'" he said. "It's just very satisfying when you see the look on their face or sparkle in their eyes when you see something we've discussed in class become concrete to them."

For more information about OUS Education on Location tours visit www.4travelworld.com.