Students learn business at Olympics

Between coursework, behind-the-scenes tours and meetings, and sporting events, a group of GW students’ trip to the Winter Olympics has been much more than a Vancouver vacation.

As part of a three-credit course called Behind the Scenes at the 2010 Winter Olympics Games, 28 graduate students are in Vancouver from Feb. 12 to 23, studying sport and event management firsthand.

“It’s reinforcing things that they learned in the classroom. Here, it’s a living laboratory. So they’re hearing from the best of the best in terms of marketing and event management,” professor and organizer of the course Lisa Delpy Neirotti said.

Ever since her 1983 internship at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Delpy Neirotti, a professor of tourism and sport management, has attended a total of 15 Olympic games as either a student or researcher. She was inspired by her own Olympic experiences to bring students to the event.

“It’s been awesome. It’s been once-in-a-lifetime,” said Ashley Sostaric, a graduate student studying event management. “You can always come as a spectator and do things on your own, but we get the behind-the-scenes view. It’s really educational as well as a great experience.”

Now in its 10th trip, the class involves lectures, assignments and an exam prior to the trip. In addition, students must research an aspect of the Olympics, both before and during the games, for a final term paper.

Besides collecting on-site information for their papers, students distributed 50 surveys to spectators to measure tourism’s economic impact of the games. Taking advantage of its unique vantage point, the class is also blogging for a Web site called sportsfanlive.com about the experience.

Each day is filled with meetings with members of the International Olympics Committee, corporate sponsors and athletes’ agents. Students also met with the director of sustainability for the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

“I’ve definitely made contacts and gotten internships that I probably wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” said Maxx Kleiner, a graduate student in the sports management five-year master’s program.

University President Steven Knapp will join the class for a tour of the International Broadcast Center, part of the Main Media Center in Vancouver, and a GW alumni reception.

“I think [the class is] the kind of course that GW is especially good at, where you take the theory in the classroom and really apply it to the real world,” Knapp said.

From their lodgings in downtown Vancouver, students and Delpy Neirotti said the atmosphere in Canada is very welcoming.

“Canadians are very excited to host us,” Neirotti said. “And there’s just tons of Canadian people roaming the streets and cheering. Everybody’s arms are open to welcome us here.”

Marielle Mondon contributed to this report.

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