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Cultural heritage and tourism class visits local landmarks

Nov 4, 2022
Two women walk through Kokomo Opalescent Glass.
Two women walk through Kokomo Opalescent Glass.

KOKOMO, Ind. — Tourism isn’t just about sandy beaches at tropical destinations, or world-famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower.

It can also be the small city factory hand-making glass in the traditional way, or the rural museum sharing the story of how farmers impact the world.

Students in an Indiana University Kokomo hospitality and tourism management class are learning about tapping into local heritage as a resource, with visits to sites including the Seiberling Mansion, Kokomo Opalescent Glass, and the Kelley Agricultural Historical Museum.

“One of the core values in this class is understanding the role of cultural heritage in an area, and what brings people in from other places,” said Mark Meng, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management. “I want them to understand the culture and history we have, and how it intersects with the tourism sector. We talk about destinations locally and around the world, and what the cultural elements are that make people want to visit.”

One trip included a tour of Kokomo Opalescent Glass, the oldest producer of hand cast, cathedral, and opalescent glass in the United States. Students witnessed production from workers scooping molten glass out of the 2,500 degree furnaces, jogging it over to the mixing table, where it’s mixed, rolled and pressed into sheets; to cooling, cutting, and creating art from it — a process that has stayed the same since the factory was founded in 1888.

Sophomore Claire Pate, from Russiaville,  said the tours the class has taken are good reminders that there are careers in hospitality and tourism everywhere, not just in resort destinations.

“I’ve been asked why I want to work in this field in Kokomo, but there is a wide variety of opportunities available,” she said. “There’s so much you can do in this field.”

Jena Chase, a sophomore from Kokomo, hadn’t visited the factory before. A peek at the guest book, to see where people who have taken tours came from, amazed her.

“It was interesting to see how far away some of them came from to visit Kokomo,” she said. “There really are a lot of things to do here.”

Meng noted that while many people think hospitality and tourism is all leisure-related, educational sites are also an important element, and those are readily available in many locations like the Kokomo region.

He chose his local destinations to highlight their connections to the area’s past and future.

“At the Seiberling Mansion, I wanted them to see our heritage, so they can understand why we still have a close connection with industry, because that’s where we started,” he said, adding the mansion housed one of the earliest IU Kokomo campuses.

The Kelley Agricultural Historical Museum highlighted the role north central Indiana plays in agriculture, Meng said.

“A lot of people in the younger generation don’t value the agriculture industry, but we are in a farming community, and they need to understand the role it plays in today’s society,” he said. “They learned that our country is number one in the world in the agricultural industry, and that we export a lot of corn and soybeans to feed people around the world.”

Finally, the Kokomo Opalescent Glass tour was a reminder that the city is home to a world-renowned producer.

“With the gas boom in the late 1800s, we used to have more than a dozen glass factories, and now only this one exists,” he said. “This tells them that even though we are in a small city, we have a big influence. This company ships its glass all over the world. They are seeing living heritage right here in Kokomo.”

The class trips are part of the Kokomo Experience and You, or KEY, the campus’s distinctive experiential learning program. The program’s goal is for students to have a travel experience within their major, to connect them with people, and provide real-world experiences.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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