Practicum provides hands-on experience in cruise industry

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The best way to get exposure to the cruise industry is to spend time at sea, behind the scenes of a cruise.

Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) students at Penn State got the chance to do just that, learning first-hand about the industry as part of an experiential practicum.

The purpose of the Cruise Industry Experience practicum is to teach students about, and have them apply, operational and programmatic components of activity and leadership on a cruise, said course instructor Patricia Kleban, assistant teaching professor in RPTM.

"Students interact with faculty, other students and professionals in the collaboration and sharing of ideas," Kleban said. "The course is designed to increase students' understanding and appreciation of the cruise experience, the issues related to delivering recreation services in the cruise industry, principles of tourism, management strategies, and the factors affecting guest services."

The course includes a mandatory week-long travel experience in collaboration with Carnival Cruises, preceded by in-class meetings and post-experience debriefing and assignments. For the fall 2017 semester, the ship departed from Florida, and made stops in the ports of Cozumel, Mexico; Belize; Mahogany Bay on Isla Roatan; and Costa Maya, Mexico.

"Our partners at Carnival Cruise Line have helped us develop what we think is the only opportunity of its kind — matching on-campus learning with on-board experience," Kleban said. "The opportunity for students to gain experience with tourism, recreation and experience leadership and the other aspects of the cruise industry is exciting." 

Kelsey Hamer, a senior RPTM major who was in the course last semester, said her role on the ship was to shadow the Carnival special events team, which allowed her to help set up and lead activities and events for the guests aboard.

"I learned about everything that goes on aboard a ship that you don't think about. There is so much the crew does behind the scenes that guests don't get to see," Hamer said. "The best part of this course was I got to learn hands-on and could decide if this could be a career path I would want to pursue." 

Students also gained experience in guest services and cruise operations, as well as learned how to apply classroom materials to the cruise setting, including risk management, budgeting, leadership and group dynamics.

After their week-long aboard experience, the class was assigned to write a paper on the cruise industry. They were tasked with listing pros and cons of Carnival's current programming, as well as suggestions on how to improve it.

"We presented these recommendations to the Carnival staff. This provided great real-world experience since most people will have to give a presentation to their superiors in the future," Hamer said.

Students were evaluated on their on-site leadership, including punctuality, participation, interaction with guests and peers, and colleagues. 

"This course will help me in my future," Hamer said. "The cruise experience teaches you engagement skills and how to be confident in yourself. I learned about myself as a leader during my time aboard, and I got to make great friends along the way."

Last Updated March 14, 2018