For two weeks, 24 UI students get to be insiders at variety of major venues

For two weeks, 24 UI students get to be insiders at variety of major venues

On Monday, 24 University of Illinois students will meet in the parking lot of Huff Hall and board a bus.

Two weeks and 2,432 miles later, they'll have seen the inner workings of professional sports teams, athletic venues, parks like Niagara Falls and Saratoga Springs, and all kinds of venues across the spectrum of recreation, sports and tourism.

It's all apart of RST 180, a class that spends eight weeks in the classroom preparing for a two-week trip from Champaign all the way to the northeastern part of the country.

"I think when they come back, they're seeing the profession much more broadly," Professor Mike Raycraft said. "When you're a younger person, an 18-, 19-year-old kid, that can be a tough thing to see because you all want to be the general manager of the Cubs. But really, I think what happens is that once you go out into the field a little bit, you can see there's facilities, and there's parks, and there's tourism destinations, then there's sports and the traditional kind of stuff, and it all interacts. Each of these things work together and makes you a stronger employee."

The idea for the trip spawned five years ago, when Raycraft took students to the 2014 MLB All-Star game in Minneapolis. Raycraft then began taking students to different venues in Chicago, and then he hatched a plan for a much bigger and more expansive tour.

The trip to the All-Star Game "really kind of opened up my eyes as a member of the faculty that there are different ways to communicate your message," he said.

Raycraft will be making the trip for the third time with students.

They'll start off the trip in Cleveland, where they'll have sessions with the Indians, the Cavaliers, and at the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame before taking off for Niagara Falls, where the waterfall will be lit up orange and blue. They'll head to the tavern where the Buffalo wing was invented, then go to Lake Placid to learn about Olympic host cities; Saratoga, N.Y., to see the Horse Racing Hall of Fame and Saratoga Springs; and Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Other stops include Woodstock, Princeton University, Philadelphia and the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The trip rounds out with a trip to Indianapolis to visit an alum who works for the Pacers and to see Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"It's an amazing opportunity, and it's pretty unique," Raycraft said. "I've never heard of another program that's anything like this, that's this in-depth."

The inaugural trip in 2016 took 16 students, and the next took 17. This year's 24 students is about the limit of what the trip can support as currently set up, but Raycraft is open to future expansion and is looking for additional funding. The students currently pay a $2,000 course fee and receive $400 back as part of a scholarship from a donor.

"It's become increasingly popular," Raycraft said. "Kids come back; they have a great experience. I think it's a little different from a lot of other off-campus experiences where this is different because you can have a lot of domestic experience and kind of dive into an experience that you might not be interested in. And you meet with a lot of alums."

Most of the students who take the trip are freshmen, Raycraft said, and about half are RST majors, while several are undecided. The unique trip, he thinks, can be a selling point for the major and the university for years to come.

"You're always looking for ways to take your program and separate it from other programs," Raycraft said. "I think it has the potential to be something that our university does — that our program does — that is very unique. And I think that we do a lot of interesting, amazing things, but this is one more piece of it."

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