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Culinary Tourism: Food for Thought


Flashback to childhood and explore the events that made your hometown unique, whether they were festivals or fairs, visiting attractions or frequent showcases. For many, these fond memories include recollections of the distinctive cuisine such events were known for.

Over the past three semesters, Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (PRTM) students on the Culinary Tourism Creative Inquiry team have traveled to and studied local food festivals around South Carolina while, of course, experiencing the unique fare each has to offer. The team is led by graduate student Jen Calabria, Dr. William Norman, and Dr. Teresa Tucker in PRTM.

From the Low Country Cajun Festival of James Island and the World Grits Festival of St. George, to the Rice Festival of Walterboro and the BBQ and Shag Festival of Hemingway, each South Carolina food festival provides students with hands-on experience in the interviewing and research styles used in the parks, recreation and tourism fields.

“We’re doing something that I think, out in the real world, a consultant would be paid to do. Because we have three semesters to do this, we’re producing a really high quality product, and the students are getting to see how much work it takes and what the expectations are, not just for school, but if they wanted to go into tourism research,” Calabria said.

Senior Jessica Kicklighter, a member of Culinary Tourism for two years, commented on her exposure to tourism research and the impact the creative inquiry has had on her professional skills.

“We developed our own research question and were in charge of developing a way to collect data,” she said. “We contacted festival coordinators, volunteers and prominent members of the community where the festivals were being held. We had to represent Clemson well and represent our Creative Inquiry well. We set up interviews and gathered information from these individuals over the phone and via email. My formal communication skills and interview skills have definitely improved as a result of my Creative Inquiry experience.”

At each local festival, students explored the perceptions of the residents in the area through in-depth interviews.

“It was interesting to watch the students evolve through the interviewing process at each festival, going from being fairly timid at the beginning, to having much more confidence at the end,” Calabria said. “I really enjoyed watching them become engaged with the people they were talking to and what they were doing.”

When it came to the locals at each festival, students were interested to find out their perceptions of food festivals and to explore what made the festivals ‘local.’ Surprisingly, students found that the main attraction of each festival was not the tasty treats.

“The localness of these festivals comes with the fact that the residents who attend them have been doing it for 25 years. They go to see their friends, and their families come back to these festivals because it’s a habit; they’ve always done so,” Calabria said. “As an outsider, you may not be part of the localness, nor might you be able to identify it unless you were like us and you were asking questions. The social component is what’s local.”

Taking on an outsider’s perspective has allowed students to stand in the shoes of a tourism manager, to experience the type of research that goes into developing and improving events.

With the research compiled from each festival, students created reports that were sent to the festivals to suggest areas of improvement. Aside from enjoying amusement rides, funnel cakes, crafts and festival cuisine, students in Culinary Tourism craft a real world product that explores the unique aspects that define the festivals that make hometowns unique.

“They’ve had to interact with people who are running festivals. They’ve had to come up with a plan to get something done, and then execute that plan. They’ve had to step out of their comfort zone to ask people if they would allow them to be interviewed, and then deal with that interview, whichever path it should go down,” Calabria said. “It’s a lot of real world experience.”

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Literature as a Lens


During adolescent years, students read books that may reflect personal issues. Whether it’s during junior year of high school and one envisions prom night to hold the glamour of Gatsby’s party, or whether one is in the midst of middle school awkwardness that Jerry Spinelli captured so clearly, it’s likely that you related to at least a few of assigned readings. The Creative Inquiry, Teenage Triumphs and Tragedies: Using Adolescent Literature as Lens to View Our Lives, studies the readings that best improve the link between books and adolescent emotions.

Creative Inquiry advisor Dr. Kathy Headley, interim director of the School of Education, and her students meet bi-weekly to in order to discuss adolescent novels. Books are selected from professionally recommended book listings of award-winning and highly ranked selections, as well as popular reads among adolescents. The Creative Inquiry team members select four books that the group will read and one book to read individually. Previous readings include October Mourning, Blue Plate Special, the Twilight saga and The Hunger Games trilogy—some of which focus on serious topics such as bullying, cancer, violence and mental health.

Donnie Wilson, a senior who is double-majoring in English and secondary English education, believes that the book characters’ problems highlight challenges in everyday life. “The books we are reading may have fictional problems and fictional characters, but the problems that they have can be related to someone’s life, or my own life,” she said.

Group discussions frequently focus on whether a current book is appropriate to teach in a classroom setting or if it would be better located in a library where students can read it on their own time. Justin Holliday, a graduate student pursuing his Masters in English, believes that this project will impact his future as a classroom teacher.

“I have learned more than I had originally thought possible,” Holliday said. “I learned what kind of young adult literature I would like to integrate into my curriculum because I learned that this type of literature is worthy of study, whether in a secondary or post-secondary classroom. I am fascinated by the motif that promotes hope even in the darkest novels.”

By using adolescent literature as a lens to view lives, the group discusses their future classrooms and ways to help adolescent students deal with personal issues through assigned readings.

This Creative Inquiry team refers to themselves as a “book club” because they all share a love of reading and appreciate the opportunity to read literature together. Headley believes that she and each book club member operate with an emphasis on student leadership and an overall goal to understand the impact of adolescent literature on students.

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Pedaling Towards a Healthier Lifestyle


The seat is not very comfortable, but it feels sturdy. It’s strange, at first, to be astride what looks like an exercise bike and not break a sweat. For Dr. June Pilcher, professor of psychology, and her Creative Inquiry team however, using the low intensity FitDesk bike has become a frequent habit. “The real effect is in the long term and in general fitness and how that impacts your ability to learn and work and think,” psychology junior Phil Smith said.

“It’s a stationary bike with a desktop. They’re affordable. They’re amazingly sturdy,” Pilcher said. A FitDesk allows its user to be active while working. However, its purpose is not to burn calories. Rather, the team believes that using the FitDesk increases focus and attention. “I think that the movement, not only does it make me feel more positive when I’m doing something that I know I need to do. It makes me more attentive while I’m doing it, it makes me more focused while I’m doing it,” Pilcher said, who hops on her FitDesk several times a day to read short scientific articles or emails.

According to Pilcher, this effect occurs because the body is partially in motion. Walking-like movement from the legs signals the brain to be alert. Normally, the brain would need to scan the horizon and avoid obstacles. Since the upper body is still, the brain is more relaxed. This combination prompts the brain to a level of alertness ideal for focusing on a task like reading a book.

Pilcher believes that the human body is meant to be in frequent, low-level motion. For example, ancient hunters and gatherers walked all day in search of food. While the modern concept of exercise, ninety minutes of intense calorie burning at the gym, is healthy, it does not give us the full benefits of frequent, low-level motion.
The eleven undergraduate psychology students in the Creative Inquiry began the project in the fall of 2013. First, they became familiar with previous research on the positive effects of exercise and assembled the fifteen FitDesks that are now on campus for anyone to use.“We’ve thought about looking at the correlation between GPA and how often someone uses the bikes,” Smith said.

“I’m always looking for a more efficient way to study,” Smith said. To him, the most interesting benefit of the FitDesk is how it may increase the speed and retention rate of reading study materials.

“It’s doing your own work but realizing that your own work is not the only thing that is going on, and that you can’t even do all of your own work by yourself. You have to bring in the rest of the team… It’s a really good way to realize that you do have peers, almost colleagues, transitioning into that,” Smith said.

“Try it out and see what you think,” Pilcher invited.

“Start to tell your friends, if you like it especially, bring your friends… People just need to try it, to just try it for a little bit. You try it for a little bit, and I think you’ll see benefits.”