BGSU, Cedar Fair partnership creates unique opportunity
By Matt Markey ’76
The thrills, excitement and dream vacations for many families become memory-making reality at Cedar Point and other major amusement parks around the country.
The primary architects of those high-speed, gravity-defying and selﬁe-ﬁlled experiences — the dream-makers —increasingly will come from the ranks of Bowling Green State University students. BGSU has partnered with Cedar Point parent company Cedar Fair and the city of Sandusky to create a unique Bachelor of Science in resort and attraction management program (RAAM).
The only educational opportunity of its kind in the country, the ﬁeld of study is possible due to this innovative partnership that will provide Bowling Green graduates with unprecedented leadership opportunities in the fast-growing ﬁeld and more opportunities for success.
“For so many different reasons, this is a ground-breaking endeavor and a very creative collaboration that is both unique and so exciting,” said Dr. Swathi Ravichandran, who was brought to BGSU earlier this year to lead the program.
“With Cedar Fair, the University and the city of Sandusky all working together, a public-private partnership has come about. We are all interwoven in this, and something pioneering has been created. I’ve been getting inquiries from all over the country regarding this program, and that makes sense, since there’s nothing else like it out there.”
The program, which will be administered by BGSU Firelands, will be housed in a new, 78,000-square-foot multipurpose facility being built in downtown Sandusky, just minutes from Cedar Point, the crown jewel in the Cedar Fair portfolio of 13 parks spread across the United States.
Beginning in fall 2020, BGSU students in the ﬁnal two years of the RAAM program will live on site. The facility will include their classrooms, common areas and apartment-style housing.
The program’s curriculum will include a suite of courses that will provide a broad foundation to prepare students for careers in the ﬁeld, including classes in revenue management, supply chain management, managing public safety and operations planning.
BGSU President Dr. Rodney K. Rogers said the unique partnership between the University, Cedar Fair and the city of Sandusky will best prepare students for work in their chosen area of the industry and helps make creative activities for public good.
“As a public university, we are always looking at how best to serve our communities and be responsive to meeting the needs and desires of those communities,” he said. “Our partnership with Ohio-based Cedar Fair allows us to do just that in setting students up for success beyond graduation.”
One of the major advantages is that each student in the program will have two extensive experiences working at Cedar Fair parks, Ravichandran said.
“This is a brilliant approach,” she said. “The students have to be in the ﬁeld — and they are going to get a signiﬁcant amount of on-the-ground experience. This is a degree-completion program and Cedar Fair is offering guaranteed paid internships for all of the students involved in the program. The partners on this project have been involved from the beginning, determining what skills are needed to excel in these careers.”
The groundbreaking for the facility that will serve as the nerve center for this program took place in April. The $14 million project focused ﬁrst on the construction of the ﬁve-story learning center, which will include as many as 80 upper-ﬂoor apartments available for students and members of the community. There will also be retail space on the street level of the facility, which is located at 250 E. Market St., next to the Schmidt Building.
Sandusky City Manager Eric Wobser said the project represents a win for the University, its students and faculty, Cedar Fair and its network of amusement parks and the city.
“Having a facility and a program of this nature located in downtown Sandusky represents a huge boost for that area of town,” said Wobser, a Sandusky native. “There hasn’t been a lot of construction taking place downtown, and to see something of this scale is rare. Everyone in the community is excited to see a new building going up.”
Wobser said he expects the new home of BGSU’s resort and attraction management program to serve as a catalyst for additional development and enhance culture.
“We see it as a major economic driver and a big step in our efforts to become a 24/7 downtown community,” he said. “This program will be a hub of activity, replacing what was essentially an empty parking lot. When people see Bowling Green State University and Cedar Fair moving in downtown, it will absolutely bring others along and make downtown a place where people want to live and work. We’re already seeing an increased interest in the surrounding blocks.”
Duff Milkie, executive vice president and general counsel for Cedar Fair, said locating the program in downtown Sandusky is a “key foundational piece” of the project, since it puts BGSU students close to the Cedar Point park and its resources, coupled with the beneﬁts the busy facility will spread throughout the downtown area.
“The location of this program is just another great aspect of the collaborative effort,” he said. “With college students learning and living there, it will establish a rental market, increase the foot trafﬁc downtown, and it will both create more opportunities for the busy tourism season and help sustain area businesses during the offseason.”
Milkie said Cedar Fair expects the beneﬁts of the program being housed in downtown Sandusky in a new, state-of-the-art, multi-use building to be substantial for all of the involved parties.
“As everyone in the industry struggles with trying to make sure we have a good, high-quality, professional workforce, this gives us a living laboratory right next to the park,” he said. “We’ve worked with BGSU and they help create a good marriage between the classroom and the workplace. With the education and training this program will provide, we will be getting people immersed in the key skillsets, and they will be in place early, in real time and on a day-to-day basis. They will be ready to excel when they come work for us.”
Milkie said BGSU is the ideal companion for this public-private partnership, which will set its graduates up for success in the worldwide, trillion-dollar resort and attraction industry.
“Both at the Bowling Green campus and at Firelands, BGSU is an active participant in heightening the awareness of training in a community perspective,” he said. “They stepped right in and brought a regional scope to this. Their willingness to be entrepreneurial was very attractive. The University embraces education for what it does for people’s lives and in the community. They have the independent thinking you need.”
The partnership arrangement calls for Cedar Fair to own and operate the building, with some of the costs defrayed by $800,000 in state funds that were secured earlier with the help of former Ohio Rep. Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton) and then state senator and BGSU alumnus Randy Gardner, who now serves as the chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
Gardner, who had the opportunity to formally approve the arrangement in his new post as chancellor, said the best role for the state government to play when a “quality university” and a “quality hospitality/recreation/tourism giant” join forces on a major project is to do everything it can to help make it work.
“With those two partnering, you know this will be something extraordinary,” he said. “One of the great strengths of education in Ohio is that we have a great array of options for students, and this just adds to that wide landscape of options. There is something for just about everyone who wants to stay in Ohio as they prepare for their future, and this program will provide a solid foundation for some exciting career paths.”
The curriculum, which will focus on the travel, hospitality and entertainment businesses, will be taught by BGSU faculty. The program will comprise the ﬁnal two years of study for students pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree in the resort and attraction management ﬁeld. Students enrolled at the Bowling Green campus or at Firelands are eligible to enroll in the program.
Michigan native Matt Rupp is set to be one of the first students enrolled in the RAAM program.
“The thrills, the science and the magic behind Cedar Point and the roller coasters shaped my enthusiasm and passion for the industry,” said Rupp, a senior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor. “With the RAAM program at BGSU, I’ll learn how to manage and run an amusement park. Plus, having mentors at Cedar Point and Cedar Fair will make the educational experience unlike anything else in the world.”
Rupp is a longtime coaster enthusiast and is a regular to Cedar Fair parks, particularly Cedar Point, which inspired him to start MrAmusement on Instagram. He now has thousands of followers keeping up with his posts about industry news, photos and ride reviews.
Rupp hopes to pursue a career in amusement park operations and higher-level management.
“With this unique skill set, I will be more experienced and better suited for specific positions in park operations and management,” he said. “Additionally, working with Cedar Fair directly will develop deep connections with industry leaders, helping to put my foot in the door.”
Dr. Joe B. Whitehead Jr., BGSU provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said Ravichandran, with her extensive background in the ﬁeld, is the ideal person to lead the innovative program.
She came to BGSU after serving on the faculty of the hospitality management program at Kent State University for 14 years. She was named Distinguished Educator of the Year by Professional Convention Management Association in 2014, and the following year was recognized by the General Assembly of Ohio as one of “Ohio’s ﬁnest educators.”
“She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this area, which will help continue the program’s momentum in meeting the growing demand for professionals in the travel industry,” Whitehead said.
Ravichandran said the opportunity to participate in building a program, and have input on the vision that will bring this program to life, was something she could not pass up.
“It was extremely appealing to be involved in something so innovative, so unique and so new,” she said. “The public-private partnership is another completely unique aspect, and the fact that this is a degree-completion program. There’s nothing anywhere else in the country that is structured like this.”
Ravichandran stressed that the program will provide students with two challenging and rewarding opportunities for ﬁeld experience unlike that offered in most internships.
“Cedar Fair is offering guaranteed, paid experiences for all of the students involved in this program, so they are going to get incredibly valuable experience,” she said. “These are co-ops, and they are part of what makes this program the strongest link between education and the actual, eventual workplace.”
Cedar Fair’s Milkie said that as the new facility takes shape, and fall 2020, when the ﬁrst cohort will bring the building to life, gets closer, the excitement and anticipation build.
“In communities such as Sandusky that are trying to grow, the power of collaboration is an incredible thing,” he said. “Bowling Green has been very forward-thinking with this program, and the magic ingredient is all of us working together to make this happen. It’s exciting to think about the future and the opportunities this program will create.”