Closer than courtside. Closer than the 50-yard line.

For a group of University of Houston students, school is in session at the 2016 NCAA® Final Four® Division I Men’s Basketball Championship and the 2017 professional football championship when both events are hosted by the city of Houston.

Dubbed “The Super Four Experience,” students from the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) and the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) will work closely with the staff from The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee and the Houston Local Organizing Committee in the areas of event planning, event management, sports marketing and communications, budgeting, project management, facility management, guest services and sport governance.

“These super-trained, student-interns will play an active role in the planning and execution of these huge, global events,” said David Walsh, HHP clinical assistant professor. “This inside look and hands-on experience will be extremely valuable to these future professionals who will be far and away more qualified than other graduates when it comes to finding a job in these areas.”

The four-semester, field-training experience began this fall. Up to 35 students will earn credits towards their hospitality and sports and fitness administration degrees. The behind-the-scenes training will support their classroom instruction, with each semester tailored to the requirements and needs of each event.

“This is a great opportunity for our students and for our two departments to collaborate,” said Anthony Caterina, lecturer at the Hilton College. “Our hope is to provide an experience that will propel our students into the industry.”

Students pursuing studies in hospitality will be the next generation of hotel and restaurant entrepreneurs, fluent in all aspects of the global industry: lodging, restaurants, food and beverage management, spa management, sales and marketing.

Students who pursue studies in sport and fitness administration find careers with professional sports franchises, municipal recreation programs, corporate wellness programs, or as business personnel in the sports industry to name a few.

“We are excited to participate in this unique project. Our partners at the NCAA have encouraged the Houston Local Organizing Committee (HLOC) to engage with our host institutions so students can get real hands-on experiences and we can get the benefit of energized and motivated students working on the 2016 Final Four in Houston. This should be a win-win,” said Doug Hall, president and CEO of the HLOC.

The 2016 NCAA® Men’s Final Four® games will begin with two semifinal games on Saturday, April 2, culminating with the championship game on Monday, April 4. The professional football championship will be February 5, 2017. While the games will be at NRG Stadium, they each also bring multiple ancillary events, encompassing venues around the city that will be open to the public at little to no cost.

“We are fortunate to have the energy and brainpower of the University of Houston and its talented students to help Houston prepare for hosting these major spotlight events, which take a community effort, “said Sallie Sargent, president and CEO of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee.

To participate, students were required to have a 3.0 minimum grade point average and be in good standing with the University, as a sophomore, junior or first-year graduate student. They also had to submit a statement of purpose, indicating how such an experience would benefit them and provide three references. Students also may be eligible to transfer six credit hours to a master’s program at HHP.

“The networking and experiential learning opportunities gained from working just one of these events will provide me with skills to jump start my career and succeed,” said student Jose Alberto Garcia. “I’ll be getting the chance to work with two of the world’s biggest sporting events, while still engaging in classwork related to the tasks assigned by the organizations.”

Walsh says a growing trend in the sport and fitness industry involves guest relations and the many facets to creating a meaningful, successful large scale sporting event.

“We hope we can set a new trend for teachers, practitioners and students in experiential learning pedagogy,” said Walsh. “It’s truly a win-win-win situation for our departments, the student and the host committees.”