New foray into teaching begins
I began my first actual Connecticut teaching job with certification this past Monday in a wonderful, federally funded program called Upward Bound, and I couldn’t be happier or more fortunate. The program, which is housed conveniently at Sacred Heart University, is on Mondays and Thursdays for six weeks, so I have the best of all worlds: free time from my regular job as a teaching assistant in a Bridgeport charter school and plenty of time to work at the Fairfield University Bookstore.
The other great thing about this first foray into teaching after so many decades is that my course is Lodging/Hospitality and Tourism with a little Consumer Behavior. I had taught the course for 11 years as an adjunct professor at New York University in the late ’90s through the early 2000s, so I simply had to modify the syllabus to fit five classes of high-schoolers from sophomores through seniors.
My challenges were two-fold in preparing for my course. The first was selecting from the tremendous amount of material which information about the lodging/hospitality industry and tourism might interest a group of students who would rather be relaxing or playing than learning about the tourism industry.
The second challenge was to simplify and update graduate-level material to accommodate the student population in the Upward Bound program. I wanted the course to work, because this was my first time teaching in the program.
With only six weeks, I opted to just top-line the main topics with a little lecture and discussion and have the students fill in the blanks with research and small projects. My focus was to be on Connecticut lodging and tourism as well as Bridgeport lodging and attractions.
To add a little variety to my course, I made some contacts with tourism and lodging experts and arranged for two guest speakers. The only problem I discovered was that we can’t combine classes, so I had to ask my speakers to stay for the day with the offer to buy them lunch. One speaker, Val D’Elia, who has a radio program and blog called “Travel With Val,” is a native of Bridgeport. Her family owned a travel agency for many years and she will be bringing a lot of photographs of early Bridgeport.
Randall Fiveash, the director of Connecticut Tourism for the past 10 years, will be my other speaker. Unfortunately, he had a conflict for my afternoon classes, so I am trying to make alternative arrangements. One possibility I discussed with Fiveash was to have a representative from his advertising/public relations agency come for the afternoon classes.
I had the good fortune of meeting with Fiveash in person this week and receiving some interesting updates about the amount of revenue that tourism contributes to the state coffers — more than $14 billion — and other contributions. He said tourism has created 122,000 jobs.
Our discussion brought back memories of when I helped promote tourism in the state, especially when he mentioned budget cuts and the fact that the state’s tourism districts — once there were 11 — had been cut to five and more recently to zero. He said some funding had come back, which is a good sign.
Fairfield and Bridgeport are supported by a number of volunteers and I recalled that the agencies which represented tourism were always concerned about legislative cuts and we were always watching our advertising and public relations budgets. These days, as Fiveash explained, a major portion of the advertising for tourism is digital.
His presentation should be great, and I hope the students will find it interesting. I really appreciated his taking time to give me accurate statistics that I can share with my classes. I left with more than enough copies of the current Connecticut Tourism Guide, which is half the size of the books we used to assemble at the agencies where I worked.
My other plans for this lodging/hospitality and tourism course include several small research assignments about hotels and other types of lodging in the state, as well as on several major attractions in Bridgeport and other areas around Connecticut. For our final project, I told the students they will be designing their own hotel.
So far, my students have shown interest and enthusiasm for the course and it’s definitely going to be a test for me. As I told the students, I will be their tour guide and I hope they will become ambassadors for tourism.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.