Business students adopt Olympic Games as classroom

Correction appended

For 28 students this year, summer school will take them across the Atlantic to London, where they’ll be rubbing shoulders with top executives and Olympic athletes.

Lisa Neirotti, associate professor of tourism and sport management, created the three-credit class in 1992 with the intent of giving students a holistic view of the Olympic Games and specialization training in the aspects they find most fascinating.

Entitled ‘Behind the Scenes at the Summer 2012 Olympics,’ the course is comprised mostly of graduate students but also includes six undergraduates. Almost all of the students are sport or event management majors or concentrations.

Students pay their way to the games, which this year will cost them more than $1,000 in airfare plus $100 a night to stay in the dorms. Despite the costs, Neirotti said she juggles a waitlist every year.

Over the 16 years she has attended the Olympics, Neirotti has developed relationships with major sponsors and members of the International Olympic Committee, who will speak to the students when they head overseas at the end of July.

“What I try to do is at least have one speaker that fits with every student,” Neirotti said. “I try to put them in touch with very high-level people who have experience with the Olympics, and ideally fit with one of their term papers.”

This year the class will hear from speakers such as the heads of Pentland, the company that owns Speedo, Mitre and Hunter, as well as the senior vice presidents of Coca-Cola.

“They learn about everything, but then they specialize in a certain area,” Neirotti said.

Trofym Anderson, a junior on the men’s rowing team, has raced for the Canadian Junior National Team, and said he is excited to meet up with his former teammates who are on the Canadian Men’s rowing team as well as network with members of the Olympic Committee, on which he hopes to serve one day.

“Sports have been such an important thing in my life and the Olympics are the highest form of sport,” Anderson said.

Students in Neirotti’s class will participate in a reception with alumni and Olympic leaders, where President Knapp will meet up with the group.

Knapp, who has been to London twice before joining the University in 2007, said he was excited to go, and remembered fondly meeting Elana Meyers, who graduated in 2006 and won a bronze medal for bobsledding in 2010 at the Vancouver games.

“While I will only be able to attend one or two of the Olympic events per se, the overall atmosphere of the Olympics is rich and exciting, and it will be great to connect with our students and alumni in that setting,” Knapp said.

Neirotti also serves as consultant to the host cities of each game, giving them helpful details such as the proven ways to organize the queues and entertain people waiting in line.

She said her favorite part of attending the Olympics is people she meets, whether informally at a pub or at one of the speakers’ presentations.

“You just never know you’re going to meet at these games,” Neirotti said, recalling one of her students who sat next to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ mother and sister on the flight to Beijing in 2008.

Hugo Scheckter, a senior and London native, will meet his class when they arrive. He said he registered for the class because he wanted to explore the business side of the games.

“It’s the real world experience that cannot be replicated in the classroom that really brings the learning experience to life,” Scheckter said, “The whole world is focused on this event so to be able to study it up close is an invaluable experience.”

This article was updated June 13, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly identified Hugo Scheckter as a junior and Trofym Anderson as a sophomore. Scheckter is actually a senior, and Anderson is a junior. We regret this error.

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