POUGHKEEPSIE, New York – In the coming months, the Marist College Department of Communications looks to revamp and reinvent a specific curriculum for sports communication students. With the department’s consistent growth and new director hire in Jane McManus, the curriculum’s committee feels as though it is the best and perfect time.
“Our sports [communication] curriculum is one of the oldest in country, but it has also not been updated,” said Leander Schaerlaeckens, the department’s primary lecturer and former interim director. “We felt that it was time to sort of move it along and get it more in line now with where the industry is in the 21st century.”
The department, which was founded in 2011, was directed by Keith Strudler from then until 2016. There were plenty of opportunities for students within, both curricular and extracurricular. Strudler and his friend and colleague, Geoff Brault, who serves as the play-by-play man for Marist Womens Basketball and football, hosted a student-produced radio show called “The Classroom.” It allowed students to take on fill-in hosting, producer, and audio technician roles, each closely mirroring professional roles with similar responsibilities. Strudler also employed multiple student interns, most of whom were involved through the radio show, but others who would help organize speaker events and attend events housed in New York City, like the summer of 2016’s Sports PR Summit, for which Marist was the academic sponsor.
Curricular options, however, remain the same that they did in 2011. Classes like Sports Culture and Communication, Issues in Sports Media, and Sports Reporting have long-been staples in the department’s offerings. The current classes, as Schaerlaeckens mentioned, are quite impactful on an entry level basis. The problem, though, is that students find that they only scratch the surface. Students have noticed, too.
“I think that redesigning the curriculum can provide a more comprehensive knowledge of the field for sports communication students,” said junior sports communication student Lily Caffrey-Levine. “Right now the professors are great, and in the focused classes we do have right now, it is possible to get a lot out of them. But the fact is, people take sports communications classes as electives and that takes away from those in the class who are trying to get a lot out of it when it’s being treated as an elective.”
The department and the offerings within have evolved during just the few months that Jane McManus has been at the helm. Upon arrival, McManus brought in multiple student interns to assist with speaker events, website development, and even jobs as mundane, however necessary, as transcribing podcasts from students. Prior to McManus’s hiring, the student publication, Center Field, was born. This type of innovation hadn’t been explored by the department, and its development has been instrumental for students hoping to find post-graduation opportunities. This, however, was something the curriculum hadn’t done beforehand, at least according to some of its earliest-enrolled students.
“It seemed like our curriculum was not thought through with the ultimate goal of getting us jobs on the other side,” said Matt Rzodkiewicz, a former sports communication major at Marist and now an employee of MLB Network. “It was based on ideas, which is problematic and simply not practical. If it weren’t for vast extracurriculars I would not be able to market myself at all.”
Hopefully, and ideally, the new curriculum fixes these issues and vets out future quibbles. Schaerlaeckens has already laid the groundwork on an upper elective Special Topics class based around Center Field. In addition, he has hinted at a class centered around statistics and analytics, as well as a sports literature class. Fluctuating enrollment numbers hasn’t stopped interest in the department. The hopes of McManus, Schaerlaeckens, and students alike are to ensure that curriculum changes will only help interest grow.