Coming full circle: From the meeting room to the classroom

“It’s evolution… eventually the student becomes the teacher.” – Big Sean

As another academic year is winding down and graduation season will soon be upon us, the above quote from chart-topping rapper Big Sean rings true, especially in the case of two of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s (GWCCA) own, my colleague Tim Trefzer and yours truly. We have both taken our talents from the meeting room to the classroom, recently becoming part-time professors at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta.

We are integral parts of the Authority’s Marketing and Communications team: I serve as the Sr. Communications Specialist and Trefzer is the Corporate Social Responsibility Manager. But before entering the corporate world and jumping into becoming professors at GSU, we received master’s degrees in our respective areas.

GWCCA has been a long-time partner of GSU, hosting its hospitality program on numerous occasions, serving as the university’s graduation site for more than 10 years, and as a home for the GSU Panthers at the Georgia Dome for the first seven seasons of the football program.

For me, it all came full circle once I accepted the opportunity to teach at my alma mater in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Sport Administration program. Attending GSU both as an undergrad and graduate student coupled with working within the field at the Georgia World Congress Center Authority for six years prepared me for this role. While in graduate school pursuing a Master of Science in Sports Administration, I began my career at the Authority as an intern. During my time with the organization I have played a role in the execution of a variety of sporting and live events, giving me real world experience to bring into the classroom. Currently teaching the “Sport and Society” class, I have been able to incorporate my love for culture and sports into every lecture.

I believe that sport is more than a game and have always felt the need to dig deeper into the culture of it and how it collides with society. Sport is a dichotomy that brings people together and sometimes causes division; it can highlight the best of times and the worst of times (ex: the exciting Atlanta Falcons playoff run to the Super Bowl coupled with the devastating loss); it is life-changing and ever-evolving and a catalyst for culture shifts all around the globe. To be able to discuss the meaning and effects of sport to that degree with my students has been rewarding.

Alicia McNease (center) and GSU’s Sport and Society Spring 2018 class.

So when asked what it means to now be a professor at my alma mater, and to  lecture in a building that I was once a student in, I simply say that it’s awesome. It’s a great way to push myself and to also give back to my university in a very cool way – my experience at the Authority has definitely set me up to be a great asset to the students. In class we discuss gender inequality, race, religion, social issues, economics, mass media and more in relation to sport. The debates are always interesting and it’s great to see the students challenge each other in a positive way; they are very driven and I can’t wait to witness all that they achieve personally and professionally in the sports industry.

Meanwhile, Trefzer has been a longtime partner of GSU, often visiting as a guest speaker within the hospitality program.  Recently while serving as the Authority’s Sustainability liaison for the College Football Playoff Championship, he partnered with GSU which allowed more than 40 students and staff members to assist with the Playoff Green initiative during game. Fast forward and now he is teaching his first class at GSU, entitled “Sustainable Operations in Hospitality,” a required course in the Master of Global Hospitality Management program. His experience serving as CSR Manager at the Authority for more than seven years and leading the charge in making all events as green as possible prepared him for this role.

Trefzer had been a guest lecturer in this specific course for the last five years and was ultimately given the opportunity to lead it this year.

Tim Trefzer (far right in black) and the Sustainable Operations in Hospitality Spring 2018 class at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It’s a different student group than I am used to – these are hospitality industry professionals and many have little or no understanding of sustainability. It’s fun because I get to start with the fundamental basic information about how the industry’s social and environmental impacts can be both challenges and opportunities. We’re discussing everything from power generation to waste diversion to sustainable food solutions. I love seeing the lightbulbs go off when they realize the systematic connections between business decisions and their resulting impacts.”

Trefzer received his Master’s degree from the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

As leaders at the Authority we are expected to be comfortable speaking to large gatherings, serving on panel discussions and forums, giving presentations and in some cases, putting together programming for internal and external audiences – all of which are similar to teaching a classroom of college students, if you stop to think about it.

My colleague and I agree that being a part of all of the great things happening at the Authority has helped to prepare us for passing our knowledge onto GSU students. Being a practitioner at the No. 1 convention, sports, and entertainment destination in the world provides phenomenal insight that transfers seamlessly into the classroom.