No Mickey Mouse class

If you sign up for a Maymester course that includes a weeklong field trip to Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, you can probably expect to have a good time. For University of South Carolina hospitality majors, however, having a good time is inextricably linked to succeeding in business.

Students in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management class, "Theme Park and Attraction Management," explore the history and business models of U.S. theme parks and attractions and enjoy talks from industry executives.

"It's a lot of experiential learning and a lot of work, but you can't help but have fun considering where you are," says Scott Smith, an assistant professor and leader of last month's course. Smith is an Orlando, Fla., native who has extensive work experience at Disney.

It was that "industry insider" aspect that appealed most to senior Larry Echerer, a returning student who owns a successful commercial and industrial painting business and has a business administration degree from Francis Marion University. He is now pursuing the HRSM degree to help take his business to the next level.

"The more you learn about the hospitality business, the better you can communicate with people, with clients, customers, employees, suppliers," Echerer says. "And if you can get the guys that manage parks owned by multibillion-dollar companies like Universal, Disney, Sea World — and you get to hear their ideas about management — you can learn to manage anything."

In addition to behind-the-scenes tours and meetings with park managers, students also had plenty of homework, including reading assignments and group projects.

"Going to the parks was definitely very cool, but I think my favorite part of the class was the group project," says rising sophomore Miranda Stephan. "Our class was divided into groups and each group was assigned a theme park, like Hershey Park in Pennsylvania or Carowinds, and asked to suggest what that park could do to compete with Magic Kingdom or Universal. It was cool because I was applying what I learned."

Along with Orlando's bigger theme parks, Smith also took students to Gator Land, a small roadside attraction that opened long before Disney World. The park's owner talked about the challenges and rewards of competing with multibillion-dollar corporations.

"What was cool about that park was that we got to focus on the individual experience," Stephan says. " You felt really special there because it's such a small park compared to somewhere where you're one person in a huge crowd."

Learn more

To learn how you can support the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, visit Carolina's Promise.

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