Nagano offers unconventional classroom

When the Winter Olympics begin in Nagano this weekend, 28 GW students will be on hand.

But they won’t be competing for medals on the ski slopes of Japan’s western coast; they will be on the sidelines studying the Games.

The group – all students in an interdisciplinary 700 Series course – left Wednesday for its temporary classroom in Japan.

For the next two weeks the class will immerse itself in the athletic, cultural and business environments of the Olympic Games as part of the unconventional curriculum of “The 1998 Winter Olympics” course.

Lisa Delpy, a professor of sports management and tourism studies in the School of Business and Public Management, teaches the course and planned the trip to Nagano.

In preparation for the trip, undergraduate and graduate students in Delpy’s class have studied the history and organization of the Olympic Games.

Delpy’s considerable experience with the Olympic Games will be an asset on the group’s journey. She attended her first Games as an undergraduate – the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

“I have such fond memories of Sarajevo,” she said. “I have been back twice.”

Delpy said she laments the city’s destruction during fighting in the former Yugoslavia. She said all the infrastructure, bridges and stadiums built for the Games have been devastated.

In total, Delpy has attended eight Olympics and researched at the Olympic training site in Colorado.

“I’ve been studying the Olympic Games since I was 19,” she said.

Delpy has led past Olympic excursions to Barcelona, Spain; Lillehammer, Norway and Atlanta. She said she will rely on her experiences at those events to “help her students get real insight into the Games.”

Delpy’s students have a busy schedule ahead of them for the next 10 days.

“Every morning, I try to have two to three speakers,” Delpy said. They will include the head of the Mizuno Corporation and officials from Visa, Coca-Cola and IBM.

Delpy said the speakers will offer their perspectives on the multi-million dollar promotional contracts they make during the Games. Planners of future Olympic Games, like the ones to be held in Salt Lake City and Sydney, Australia also are scheduled to share their experiences with the students, she said.

Along with business and civic leaders, Delpy has planned for several athletes to speak to the group. Among them will be A.J. Mleczko, the center for the U. S. women’s hockey team, and bobsledder Prince Albert of Monaco.

During their two weeks in Nagano, the students will conduct a research project. Each student will distribute three surveys daily to determine spectators’ motivation in attending the Games, and to examine their spending behavior and identification with the event’s corporate sponsors. The information the students collect during the Games will be the basis of a research paper they will write this spring.

“That’ll be interesting,” said Kim Radosh, a graduate student working toward her M.B.A. “We’ll find out who the typical visitor is and what kind of group they’re with. We’ll know if they are a world traveler or perhaps an Olympic enthusiast.”

Radosh said she hopes to research the entrepreneurial nuances of the Olympic Games.

“It’s a lot like running a Fortune 500 company,” she said. She said she plans to investigate how companies like Coca-Cola temporarily relocate their operations overseas, conducting marketing, information systems and press relations abroad.

Several students will work behind the scenes of CBS and Fox Sports in Nagano. For instance, Melissa Minker will work in the main CBS studio with sportscaster Jim Nantz.

Other students, like senior Robyn Schwartz, are looking forward to the cultural immersion as much as the business and marketing exposure. After four years studying Japanese, Schwartz said she plans to soak up the spirit of Nagano.

Culture won’t be hard to come by – students will stay at a Buddhist temple, where they will sleep in one room on tatami mats. They will use Japanese, communal-style restrooms.

“It will be one big slumber party,” Delpy said. “That certainly takes care of the cultural experience.”

But beyond cultural exchange, Schwartz said she hopes to someday bring the Olympics to her hometown – Philadelphia.

“I’m definitely interested in learning what it takes to put on an Olympics,” she said.

Delpy has arranged for the class to attend events at three different venues – a Japan-France hockey game, a speed-skating race and a bobsled competition.

The entire trip, which includes airfare, lodging and tickets to the three events, is $1600 for undergraduates and $425 dollars for each credit hour for graduate students, Delpy said.

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