The Course: A Learning Laboratory

learning lab studentsWhen Joe and Patsie Gibbs donated their 18-hole golf course to NMU in 2009 they wanted “to do something good in return for the community” of Marquette, where they had greatly enjoyed living. Now, the course is not only enjoyed by hundreds of community members, but also serves as an outdoor classroom for dozens of NMU students and a funding generator for NMU scholarships.

“I see the course as ‘south campus,’ a real-life laboratory with a lot of practical learning,” says Glen Rochester, NMU golf course manager.

More than 20 students are employed at the course. Partnerships with academic departments also provide learning opportunities. For instance, biology students have been conducting water quality research and communications students have worked on developing a marketing plan and advertising. The NMU cross country team has also hosted two U.P. Championship races on the links.

Student manager of the course, Bridget Deutsch, has been a certified athletic trainer for three years and is working on a master’s degree at Northern in education administration and supervision. She’s shooting for a career as an athletic director.

“I really enjoy the administrative side of athletics,” she says. Her work at the course is providing plenty of that. “I am in charge of monitoring inventory, ordering stock, hiring new employees, training new employees, managing the leagues, setting up the schedule, submitting payroll, and making sure things are running smoothly at the pro shop. I am also a golf shop attendant running the day-to-day operations.”

This is on top of instructing athletic training labs and lectures for the School of Health and Human Performance as a graduate assistant — and being a student. It all ties together, though, she says. “I often find myself attempting to apply the organizational management theories I have learned in class, like motivating employees through a shared vision and a mutual sense of purpose. But I have learned that real life experiences are much different than textbook theories. It is important to adapt to new situations and different groups of people. The training gained from these experiences completely enhances any formal education.”

Ryan Mingay, a senior public relations and communications double major who after graduation hopes to use these skills working for a private golf course, is also upping his game through his work at the course. He helps train employees, oversees a crew of six students, sets schedules and ensures the grounds are up to par.

“It’s an incredible experience,” he says. “What this has done for me personally is humbling. The NMU professionals here are very helpful and knowledgeable and it’s an unbelievable place to learn. With what I’m going to take with me to the real world, I expect to be in competition for any golf course job I’d apply for.”

“Ryan has also been instrumental in upgrading our irrigation system and working to make it run more efficiently and reliably,” adds Rochester. “Conserving water and electricity has been a key goal here.”

The team has also been working diligently on other sustainability initiatives, using soy-based products for coolant, cleaners, soaps, sanitizers and oils and testing soy bio-based pesticides. “If it works well for us here, then it is probably something the rest of the campus should consider in its effort to become more sustainable.”

Mingay says that he likes talking with members about what they’re doing with the upgrades to the course and what they’d like to see them do next — putting some of those PR skills to work.

“The course was a fantastic gift to the school, and I truly believe everyone at Northern knows that. I can see it in how much they care about the course,” observes Mingay. “The support from the community is unbelievable, too. A lot of golfers here have connections to Northern and the affiliation of NMU having a golf course is something they’re really proud of.”

Net profits from the course are awarded as NMU student scholarships. In the first two years of operation, that’s amounted to more than $22,000. The inaugural Blueberry Classic golf outing at the course on July 29, 2011 is also intended to raise funds for scholarships. Through financial assistance and practical experience, the course has proven to be a valuable, and fun, learning environment at NMU.