Capilano University tourism and outdoor recreation students connect to the environment through offline learning

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      When COVID-19 began last March, North Vancouver-based Capilano University quickly pivoted to prioritize the safety of students while keeping them engaged in learning.

      The faculty in the Schools of Tourism Management and Outdoor Recreation Management saw this as an opportunity to more actively utilize outdoor spaces for teaching.

      “These programs are largely experiential and include a lot of time spent in the field. We immediately recognized that COVID-19 was going to affect how we delivered course content,” says Graham Vaughan, convenor of the School of Outdoor Recreation Management. “We’ve worked closely with the occupational health and safety team at the university to follow provincial guidelines and protocols so that we can safely continue the in-person field trips.”

      For more than 40 years, the Bachelor of Tourism Management program has offered the only tourism degree in the Lower Mainland. Additionally, both schools offer two-year diploma programs that ladder into the four-year degree.

      While the pandemic hit pause on the majority of travel within Canada and abroad, the tourism industry is expected to recover. And when it bounces back, there will be a surge in the demand for tourism and recreation professionals eager to take on leadership roles within the industry.

      Many of the courses within the outdoor recreation management program have outdoor field experience components. Students connect with the environment through these activities and they are a core part of the learning outcomes. Impressively, the faculty has been able to continue many of these exciting excursions with their students throughout the pandemic.

      “We’ve managed to do a whole spectrum of things, from meeting for an hour or two on campus at one of the universities outdoor classrooms to five or six-day kayaking and backpacking trips,” says Vaughan. “Everyone has their masks and hand sanitizer handy, we set up individual cooking stations, and we order multiple busses to transport students so that we can have a 30 percent occupancy rate in each.”

      Capilano University

      At this time of year, students in the tourism management diploma program are usually preparing for their summer co-op work terms, applying for study abroad, or academic exchange opportunities such as the partnership with University of California Riverside and Walt Disney World. All of these will resume when safe to do so and in the meantime, students take part in course-related field trip experiences that are considered pandemic-friendly.

      “Our faculty has been able to continue offline learning with our students instead of spending all our hours on online,” says Joanna Jagger, convenor of the Bachelor of Tourism Management programs. “We’ve been able to pivot in a way that still includes these valuable learning experiences as best as possible. And for our tourism program, this includes having students safely audit five-star hotels as overnight mystery shoppers, take cycling tours to local attractions, and much more.”

      In the gastronomy tourism course, students received a terroir box with culinary treats from local producers as the field trips to Abbotsford farms were cancelled this year. Then the farmers spoke to the students over Zoom. “Instead of going to the farm, the farm came to them,” says Jagger.

      Many people forget to consider the tourism and outdoor recreation industry when thinking of a future career. It’s common to get hung up on more traditional job trajectories within business, technology, and healthcare, but these aren’t for everyone.

      “A career within the tourism industry is perfect for students who want to be connected to people, the outdoor world and to a traveller’s experience,” says Jagger. “Many of our graduates choose to take their careers global.”

      Outdoor recreation is ideal for those who enjoy being active, spending time outside, learning about our environment, and advocating for it.

      “It’s a resilient industry and there’s going to be a significant labour demand once it bounces back,” says Vaughan. “The students currently in our programs and those who are about to enroll are in a great position.”

      To learn more about the Tourism Management and Outdoor Recreation Management programs, join the virtual info night on February 10, 2021, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

      The online event will be hosted by Joanna Jagger and Graham Vaughan, who will discuss the programs and opportunities at CapU. To register, visit