Long-distance RAAM-ing:Growing BGSU-Cedar Fair resort- and attraction-management program finishes first year with fully online students, who do co-ops somewhere other than Cedar Point

Like the line for the Raptor on a 72-and-sunny Saturday at Cedar Point, Bowling Green State University’s new Bachelor of Science in Resort and Attraction Management program doesn’t appear as if it’s going to get smaller anytime soon.

“We are definitely in growth mode,” says Dr. Swathi Ravichandran, a profressor and the founding director of what’s commonly known as the RAAM program, during a recent phone interview, “because we have expanded how prospective students can access the program.”

Thanks to a partnership between BGSU and Cedar Point's parent company, Cedar Fair, it is the only resort- and attraction-management degree embedded in a theme park, according to the school, with classes taking place in an academic facility near the attraction. 

Although RAAM is now open to international students, Ravichandran is referring more specifically to the addition of a fully online version of the program, available for the first time for the school year that has just concluded. Instead of working a paid co-op at Cedar Point in the summer, the remote students work at an attraction closer to home. 

“The fully in-person program is for students who want that in-person experience, who are looking for that cohort model, where they can spend time with people who are passionate about the same industry, about similar career interests,” Ravichandran says. 

Courtesy of BGSURegardless of whether they come from near or far, some who graduate from the RAAM program stay in the area, working full-time at Cedar Point and other attractions.“And then the online program is for folks who are place-bound for one reason or another,” she continues. “It could be because they already have a job but they’re looking to move up or that they can’t really move out of where they are. They may be caregivers and they’re not able to move. So it’s really for folks who (are) looking to either (begin) or advance their career in the industry.

“That increased accessibility has increased the number of students who are now a part of the program because there literally are no obstacles anymore.”

That number is fluid because a student could leave the program at any time, but this past year between 140 and 150 students participated in the program, according to Ravichandran. 

And, she says, there should be no sacrifices in terms of education quality for the online students compared with their in-person peers. 

“Regardless of the modality – so whether it’s in-person or online – the course-learning outcomes are the course-learning outcomes,” she says. “So that is going to be the same in terms of what students get out of the class, what they learn (from) the class, how they’re assessed, etc.”

The educators, she says, are the key.

“I try, as much as possible, to have the same instructor for both the in-person and online sessions with the same class,” Ravichandran says. “When they develop and set up the online class, they’re going to try to keep it as close as possible to those in-person expectations.”

Another key, of course, is the remote co-op, done at an attraction closer to home for that potentially far-from-Sandusky student.

“A lot of the online students – we are starting to see more and more (do their co-ops) at other Cedar Fair parks, as well,” Ravichandran says. “I think we have a couple of students from Kings Dominion (in Doswell, Va.) who already work there, either in a part-time or full-time capacity, but now they are looking to advance their career and have enrolled into the fully online program.”

Courtesy of BGSUThis past year, between 140 and 150 students participated in the RAAM program.That said, a student could do a co-op at, say, Dollywood Resort, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., or at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando, she says. They just need to get RAAM program sign-off. 

“We do have to approve it,” she says. “We want to make sure the learning experience is going to be achieved whether their co-op is at a Cedar Fair park or not.”

She isn’t sure how many students will be enrolled in the online component for the 2024-25 school year, but that growth looks to continue.

“We have had a TON of applications,” Ravichandran says. “I wish I could give you commit numbers; I can’t. But we have had a whole lot more applications than last year.”

RAAM may also be poised for significant growth from the aforementioned inclusion of international students, which, Ravichandran says, so far has consisted mainly of a couple of students from Canada. As with those interested in the online program, the number of applications from international students is significant.

“I’ve been hounding our international office: ‘Do you know if they got their visas?’” she says. “It takes a long time to get appointments for visas, let alone whether a visa is issued or not.

“So, again, until they actually show up on campus, we’re not going to know, but I think the last time I checked, we had close to 30 applications for international students in the fall,” she continues. “I’m really excited about that – I just want them to be able to actually come over and be part of the program because that enriches everybody’s learning experience to have those diverse perspectives.”

Regardless of whether they come from near or far, some who graduate from the RAAM program stay in the area, working full-time at Cedar Point and other attractions and contributing to the local economy by shopping, paying taxes and the like.

“They’re obviously making meaningful economic contributions to the area,” Ravichandran says. “which was part of the vision for the program, I believe, of the city folks long ago that were instrumental in bringing the program to downtown Sandusky, so I’m happy that is actually coming to fruition.”

She says she is happy with where RAAM – which this past year also began offering a 10 percent instructional fee scholarship to full-time Cedar Fair employees and their dependents –  is at the moment.

“But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue with forward-looking goals for advancing the program,” Ravichandran says. “I want my alumni to be in every company in this industry and in leadership positions making meaningful differences for growth and advancement of this industry – and there’s no end to that goal.”