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Hospitality Project-based Learning Class Tackles York County History Center Move

PBL Course and York History Center

Written by: Nathan Leakway '24

Every fall, Dr. Fred Becker, Associate Professor of Hospitality Management and the Director of the Hospitality Management Program, teaches a project-based learning class that allows students to partner with an industry sponsor to solve a real-world problem. In the past, the class has worked with the York County Economic Alliance and the York County Industrial Development Authority to tackle various projects in downtown York. Last fall, Dr. Becker’s group of students helped the newly renovated Yorktowne Hotel plan their grand opening.

When the Yorktowne finally reopened in Fall 2022, Dr. Becker began his search for a new industry partner. “The York County History Center approached us,” he says. “We’ve had conversations with them in the past and planted the seeds for future cooperation. They came back when they were ready to talk with us about project-based learning.”

“The History Center staff is busy planning for the opening of our new museum next year, and we still have to take care of the day-to-day work. We’re juggling those two things at the same time, and we can use all the help we can find,” says Dan Fink, Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations at the York County History Center. “It seemed like a good time to reconnect with York College to help us carry the load.”

The York County History Center is currently moving from its location on East Market Street, where it has been located since 1959, to the former Met-Ed Steam Plant on the corner of Philadelphia Street and Pershing Avenue. The $30 million project is “a huge step forward for the York County History Center,” says Dr. Becker. “After the move, they will have a consolidated space for them to house all of their major exhibits, and it's also an opportunity to repurpose a big, empty space downtown.” The targeted opening date is June 2024.

The Hospitality and Tourism Project-Based Learning class satisfies general education requirements for students across different majors. “The intent of high-impact classes like this is to provide an interdisciplinary perspective on a project,” says Dr. Becker. The current class is made up of students from four different majors: Criminal Justice, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Sport Management, and History.

At the beginning of the semester, students met downtown with members of the York County History Center to figure out how they could help with the move. They then split into two groups, each focusing on a different aspect of the project.

Molly Kihn ‘24, a Hospitality and Tourism Management major, is helping the York County History Center develop a campaign called “Sundays in the City.” That campaign is part of a larger effort by the History Center to collaborate with local businesses to entice a younger demographic to visit downtown York on the weekends. “My group’s role has been gauging interest in the ‘Sundays in the City’ campaign,” says Molly. “That includes reaching out to, meeting with, and explaining the campaign to potential partners.” The group has been meeting with local businesses as well as with Explore York and Downtown Inc to gauge interest and brainstorm ways to incentivize people to visit downtown York on a Sunday.

“It’s important to get the community and the local downtown businesses to support this, so when folks do go downtown on a Sunday, there’s a place to eat and something for them to do to make the trip worthwhile,” says Dr. Becker. “We want this campaign to have a positive impact on the community, the History Center, and any organizations that participate,” adds Molly.

The second group of students have been tasked with gathering information for the Center’s History Makers project, which will highlight individuals who have made an impact in the York area. History Makers will be a “major piece of the core exhibit in the new museum,” says Fink. The display, which will utilize the large smokestack left over from the old steam plant—the Center is calling it the History Makers Tower—will feature 75 different people, according to Fink. “We had only researched a few of these folks at the start of the semester, and we asked the students to jump in and help us fill in the gaps,” he says. “Within weeks, they had finished researching every remaining person on the list, putting us well ahead of our deadline.”

Kayla Buchanan ‘24, a History major, is in charge of communicating with the York History Center and keeping them informed about the group’s progress as they dig through archives to find information on the local history makers. “We are each responsible for researching and writing biographies for different individuals who impacted York County in various ways,” she says. The Center has requested that those biographies be short; less than 500 characters. “I have enjoyed conducting research on many influential people in York County’s history and continuing to develop more museum-related skills that will help me in the future.

Dr. Becker has seen how project-based learning can help students build the skills they’ll need to be successful in their careers. “When students get out into the working world, they’re going to be working in teams,” says Dr. Becker. “Project-based learning helps students learn how to be a team member and how to work efficiently with others.” These projects also give the students the opportunity to make connections and to make a real impact on their community. “This is a real client with a real problem and a real project, and these are real professionals they’re dealing with.”

“It’s great for York City, too,” he adds. “This project will position the History Center downtown right where our other historic locations are, so when people go downtown to learn about the City’s history, the Center will be right there to help people interpret that history. It’s an exciting process.”

Fink views the relationship the Center has formed with York College as a mutually beneficial one, too. “We have seen how York College students have a lot of talent to contribute to our work. And generally, we see the relationship between the History Center and York College as one that can help raise awareness for each other among our respective audiences and to the larger community.”