PFW Florida program – an off campus semester at the Gasparilla Inn, Boca Grande
PFW began the Florida program in the Spring semester of 2010 and I have been privileged to be faculty and coordinator of the program since its inception.
The program is now based at the Gasparilla Inn and Club, a privately owned, independent resort located on Boca Grande, an exceptionally beautiful island just off the Gulf Coast of south west Florida. Last year the Inn received the accolade of being voted as one of the Top 50 resorts in the World and #1 in Florida by readers of Travel and Leisure Magazine. The Inn has existed for more than 100 years and although it retains a “Old Florida” grace and charm the feet of the management are firmly in serving the demands of 21st century hospitality.
What makes this program special is the combination of elements within it that combine to provide our students with a unique opportunity to experience the hospitality and tourism business of one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
While in Florida all the students are required to be employed and paid by the Gasparilla Inn in positions which meet both the needs of the company and the profile and ambitions of the students. In 2018 students were placed at the front desk, in housekeeping, fine and casual dining as servers, hosts and in the kitchen and in activities. The students are accommodated in the Inn’s employee housing where they share twin rooms and have all meals provided. Most of our students come from Indiana and living and working with colleagues from around the world presents a fantastic opportunity to learn about and appreciate many different cultures and backgrounds.
Living and working on an island in Florida provides the ideal backdrop and operational insights for the 3 face to face courses taught as part of this semester, Resort Management, Resort and Destination Marketing and Sustainable Tourism Development. Students also prepare a credit bearing Individual Reflective Portfolio of their experience and personal development throughout the semester. Employment and classes are further augmented by a series of industrial visits to other resorts, convention centers, marinas, golf and country clubs, airports, theme parks etc. We also have visiting speakers from the industry including Disney, local tourism officials and program alumni still based in Florida. The culmination of their coursework is the presentation of a “Big idea”, a proposal for an innovative service, amenity or product which can contribute positively to the marketing, management and sustainability of the Inn or to the local destination. Many of these ideas have been implemented, including solar powered golf carts, food waste management programs, promotional materials, interpretation boards etc.
So, is it all work or class, of course not! Our students are close to some of the best beaches in the world, can visit Miami, Tampa, the Florida Keys, the Everglades etc. in the sunshine while Indiana freezes through the northern winter.
Perhaps the most striking outcome of the program is just how much the students grow from their experience. For some it is their first time away from home, none have been exactly in this situation before exploring, living, working and having class together. We sometimes say that this is a Study Abroad semester without leaving the USA!
On left: students visiting Tampa Bay Convention Bureau, on middle: Boca Grande Beach, on right: students at Gasparilla Inn Florida.