by Rob Ferguson, Teaching Faculty Member and Co-Chair, Department of Recreation and Tourism Management, Faculty of Management, VIU

While I refuse to acknowledge that I am well past my youthful prime, I am old enough to remember the popular TV series A-Team that pitted a group of misfits who used their wits and creativity to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Their TV escapades would usually end with the leader smirking at the screen saying, “I love it when a plan comes together”. While I’m not sure the experience below would make entertaining television it was one of those times when all the pieces just seemed to fit together to create a success story.

It all began when students involved in cooperative education shared their work-based learning experiences with faculty and fellow classmates. Their experiences were diverse, interesting and really drove home to me the value of linking theory and practice. One experience piqued my interest as it involved providing recreation opportunities for disadvantaged children in a day camp format. The challenge the student shared was that the need within the community was creating real concerns in providing programs in a safe manner given the resources the organization had.

That semester I challenged my first year programming and event management students to plan and implement a series of events that would generate funding for the local need described above.  As a group they took this challenge to heart and planned several campus-based events, as well as some public ones.

One example that I have to admit caught me off guard with its success was a fishing derby on a local lake which saw nearly 100 anglers of all ages enjoying a beautiful morning for a good cause. The students also leveraged their fundraising totals by accessing other resources on campus and were able to provide a sizable donation. This enabled the organization to hire additional staff in order to meet the increasing demand for recreation opportunities for families in need. I later learned that one of the students involved in my class was hired to fill the additional leadership capacity that his classmates helped create. As a result students were able to learn by doing, increasing opportunities for accessible recreation within our community and even create jobs.

That was three years ago and I am privileged to see many of the students involved now completing their final year of the Bachelor of Tourism Management program. The original student who started all this by highlighting a concern is quickly developing into a national leader within our field through her success in the Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure Management program and the focus on experiential learning and community engagement has never been stronger amongst my colleagues.

At times I find it difficult to come to the end of a workday and reflect on what I have accomplished. I’m always busy, always engaged but at times struggle to capture the value I was able to create or the difference I made. However, reflecting on this experience helps me to realize the significant impact that conversations, ideas and follow through can have on individuals and communities. It also helps me to appreciate the privileged position that all educators have, and the responsibility we share, in creating opportunities for students to find meaning through experience that in turn can create value for society.

This was one of those times and wow am I proud of those students and the plan we pulled off together!