Study abroad course a learning experience for group of Tech student-athletes

By Jimmy Robertson

She hasn’t quite solidified her future plans, but Kristine Loscalzo certainly is putting herself in position to have options.

A two-year starter on the Tech women’s lacrosse team, she remains on track to get her degree in public relations either in December of 2017 or in May of 2018. She continues her pursuit of a minor in consumer studies, and she is contemplating applying for a minor in applied business computing to make herself more attractive to potential employers.

She added to her academic resume earlier this summer when she participated in a summer school course that took her and others to Switzerland, viewing such an experience as yet another valuable resource for her future.

Yes, she saw some cool sights, like the United Nations (UN) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) home office. But the trip wasn’t about just seeing – it was about learning.

“You learn so many things that you didn’t know previously,” Loscalzo said. ”Like, I would have no idea that the UN does so many things that involve sport and developing countries, just helping with social development and helping poverty-stricken areas. That’s something I never would have known if I hadn’t gone there. It was definitely an interest to me because I really like sports, and to know that it can connect people from a lot of different areas is an awesome thing.”

Loscalzo, a senior from Miller Place, New York and an attack on the lacrosse team, was one of 12 Tech student-athletes to take UAP 3954: Sport, Policy and Society, a summer course taught by Danny White, Tech’s associate athletics director for student-athlete development, earlier this summer. Dr. Joseph Tront, Tech’s faculty athletics representative and an electrical and computer engineering professor, served as co-instructor.

The group also included Laura Schwartz (women’s swimming and diving), MJ Ulrich (women’s swimming and diving), Savannah Padgett (women’s swimming and diving), Brittney VanVeldhuisen (lacrosse), Kristen Kohles (lacrosse), Haley Lukefahr (lacrosse), Charlie Fix (lacrosse), Emily Wilson (lacrosse), Chris Wang (men’s swimming and diving), Allison Woodward (women’s golf), and Marie Johnston (women’s soccer).

The course required spending 10 days in Europe, mostly in Switzerland, the home of the United Nation’s Office on Sport for Development and Peace and the home of the IOC. The course focused on how sport affects policy in developing countries and how it can be used to aid in that development.

In the previous four years, White coordinated a summer school course that went to the Dominican Republic. But this year, he decided to give the student-athletes a twist, looking at how sport influences development.

“What we do in the Dominican Republic is partner with grass roots development organizations,” White said. “All the areas – food, water, shelter, education and health – are concepts that are a part of international development. In the Dominican Republic, you either see all those areas, or you experience them. We’re doing that with organizations like the Peace Corps and NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. That’s where the rubber hits the road in terms of working in under-developed communities.

“Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but what Switzerland has is the UN and the IOC – the highest policy drivers in the world when it comes to international development. Anything an NGO or a non-profit is doing on the ground in the Dominican is likely influenced by decisions that are made at the United Nations. If a student is interested in this, he or she would want to see both sides to fully understand it.”

The first stop on the trip was Geneva, where the group toured the International Academy of Sport Science and Technology. The group sat in on three presentations, including a master’s level course. Former Tech tennis player Carol Kahoun is pursuing a master’s degree at this institution and helped White with the logistics.

They also sat in on two presentations at the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP), including one by Wilfried Lemke, who serves as a special advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The next day, they went to Lausanne, home of the Olympic Museum and the offices of the IOC. They toured the area and sat in on several presentations/discussions.

Much of the content and discussion within the course came from what was learned during these two stops. The UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace often works in conjunction with the IOC to sponsor programs and initiatives that bring nations together. The Olympics is the biggest and most visible example, but nearly all of the world’s sports governing associations fall under the IOC umbrella.

Athletes from all countries compete against each other in these various international events. That competition often sparks camaraderie, such as the “selfie” of the North Korean and South Korean gymnasts taken at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Politically, the two countries despise each other, but the event allowed these two countries to respect their cultural differences.

“One of the things you learn is that sports can serve to unify people no matter how different they seem,” said Schwartz, who is pursuing a degree in professional and technical writing. “That was probably my biggest takeaway from the class in general. I didn’t really realize it. You see the Olympics and all the countries, but you never think about how, ‘Wow, these people wouldn’t cross paths with each other, and they may even hate each other, but there they are competing and doing the things that they love.’ It’s just kind of a unifying message that I had never thought about before.”

Following their time in Lausanne, the group moved to Riva San Vitale, a small Swiss town in the southeast corner of the country nestled along the Italian border. The town serves as the home for The Steger Center for International Scholarship – a facility named after former Tech President Dr. Charles Steger and one that provides state-of-the-art classrooms, dining and living space for Tech students studying in the area.

The group spent three days at the Steger Center, and the student-athletes attended class sessions conducted by White and Tront. They discussed what they had learned in previous presentations. They also read a lot, and they wrote a lot in journals as a way to reflect on what they had seen and how it impacted them.

“It wasn’t a boring class,” Schwartz said. “Danny made it easy to pay attention. We’d journal every day, which I thought was a good idea because it helped you keep everything that you had seen and learned fresh in your mind. I wrote about everything that I thought about what we were seeing. Sometimes, I wrote how I felt. Mainly, it was about what I experienced and things I had noticed.”

While in Riva San Vitale, they made the short drive over to Milan, Italy to spend a day there.

The final three nights of the trip were spent in Paris. They got to see the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees and Notre Dame Cathedral. Those attractions tend to reside on everyone’s bucket list.

The stop in Paris – and the trip in general – exposed the student-athletes to totally different cultures. They realized what the local population viewed as important, and they learned to navigate the language barrier just to get around and to order food from restaurants and cafes.

“Each day, we had different responsibilities,” Loscalzo said. “Some of us had the responsibility of getting us from point A to point B, which was actually pretty difficult because you had to read the train schedules, and then sometimes, we’d have to look up a bunch of restaurants. But I basically went day to day and wrote about the highlights of the day and the funny moments that we had. I put all of that in my journal.

“The other cool part of the trip was just getting to spend time with other athletes. I know a lot of my team was there, but I got to meet a bunch of the swimmers, and Allie [Woodward] was there, so it was cool to meet them and create new experiences with them. Dr. B [Gary Bennett] said, ‘We’ll learn what we learn, and the memories will always be there.’ It was just a good bonding experience.”

The group returned back to the United States on May 25. They submitted their final journal entries and then prepared for the rest of their summer. In several cases, student-athletes went from taking the class to working an internship.

The course, at the least, gave them a sampling of life beyond United States.

“I think this will help me more in life than with my major,” said VanVeldhuisen, a finance major. “Just the experience of going was helpful, and then we got to network with a lot of people over there. They were so accommodating and were like, ‘Hey, if want to do anything over here, like an internship, we can help you out.’ So all of that really helped out.”

“It was definitely informational,” Loscalzo said. “I think it would have been a lot harder if you weren’t interested in the topic, but a lot of us were very interested and all wanted to participate in class discussions. That made it a lot more interesting. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to contribute that way. You wouldn’t know that sport is something that can connect other countries, along with helping them.”

That’s really the primary point of the course and traveling abroad – to make student-athletes aware of the issues beyond their respective sports and to inspire them to take the lead in helping solve those issues.

Approximately 75 Tech student-athletes over the past five years have participated in a summer school course that involves such topics as global leadership, international development, policy, citizenship and more. Studying abroad has broadened horizons, and in many cases, propelled these student-athletes to make a difference in the world around them.

The athletics department plans on continuing the summer school course going forward, though whether that means a return to Switzerland or a return to the Dominican Republic remains to be seen.

“I thought it was a special experience,” White said. “I missed the Dominican Republic because of the practical, hands-on experiences. That part is not easy for me not to be a part of.

“We have been fortunate to piece together two very good opportunities that were special for different reasons. My hope is to combine the two somehow and to continue providing our students exposure to meaningful ways that sport can contribute to a global society. I can think of no better setting than Virginia Tech to combine the ideals of service with a passion for sport.”

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