By Abigail Cloutier
Typically, when students imagine a classroom, the last place they think of is an airport.
Amy Cossentino, dean of the Youngstown State University Honors College, and Mollie Hartup, programs coordinator of the Honors College, both knew something powerful was established inside Logan International Airport after attending the National Collegiate Honors Council conference with a few honors students in 2018.
Hartup said as they prepared to leave the conference, the faculty decided to hold an informal debriefing at the airport with the students, which sparked ideas for a publication.
“We thought it made sense to get together and debrief while we were all there, and what happened was really powerful,” Hartup said. “Having everybody there and engaged in this debriefing, with all the ideas flowing and all this energy and excitement, was the moment we noticed a pattern and decided to explore it.”
Cossentino and Hartup’s co-written study titled “Reimagining the Airport as Classroom: Immediacy, Place, and Presence” was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Learning Spaces in June.
The study highlights debriefing models, allowing other organizations to understand the benefits of face-to-face interaction, and demonstrates how utilizing the space of an airport can strengthen engagement between people.
According to Hartup, the concept of reflecting on shared experiences can be valuable.
“What [the study] really gets to is the idea of reflection,” she said. “There are so many benefits in taking a couple minutes to reflect on an experience, shared or otherwise, and to take a moment while it’s fresh and critically reflect.”
Lexi Rager, coordinator of student recruitment and engagement at the Honors College, was a senior when she participated in the conference and subsequent study.
“It was pretty cool, it just makes it seem really meaningful,” Rager said. “Sometimes if you don’t debrief right after a conference, you lose a lot. There’s just something about being there together in one place that makes it special.”
According to Cossentino, the study emphasizes the importance of in-person communication in comparison to online mediums.
“There is still value and immediacy in face-to-face communication, in the here and now,” she said. “I think we’ll see our students be more purposeful and doing that themselves in the future with other conferences and groups.”
Cossentino hopes to use this debriefing framework with other university faculty and staff.
“This isn’t something that’s isolated. This can be generalized for everybody, not just students,” she said.
According to Hartup, the response from faculty and staff members has been positive and reassuring.
“One comment was something like, ‘Oh, it’s so simple,’ and I agree,” Hartup said. “But oftentimes the simplest solution is the best solution. Articulating a simple framework that can be used by other people or groups has value.”
Hartup and Cossentino’s next goal is to create a model that will be useful before and after attending national conferences.
“From a research standpoint, we are starting to think about better ways we can prepare for a conference, to prepare on the front end before we even get to a conference,” Hartup said. “We can have a more intentional experience so everyone gets something out of it but also brings something to the group.”
Cossentino said she and Hartup are aiming to create new content with more emphasis on communication, education and learning.
“We’re taking a group to New Orleans this year,” said Cossentino. “We will be doing something very similar to what we did last year: flying together. We will have new people that will be part of this experience, and it will be interesting to see what the differences are.”