At the 2015 Special Olympics New York State Winter Games held in Syracuse, 22 students enrolled in Sport Management Professor Mary Graham’s required SPM 295 research methodology course surveyed event volunteers.

For the second year, in collaboration with Stacy Eder, Director of Volunteer Management at Special Olympics New York State, Professor Graham’s class polled volunteers during the opening and closing ceremonies and at select athletic events. The students explored multiple facets of volunteer satisfaction, including training and preparation received prior to the events, what made experiences memorable, and whether volunteers would be likely to serve again.

Professor Graham observed,“the SPM students did a great job in the field collecting data and interacting with the athletes and volunteers. This project enabled students to see in practice the importance of developing a sampling strategy and the benefits of sound survey design.” Students will enter the data into the survey platform, Qualtrics, and then have the opportunity to analyze the data later in the semester.

The student team is currently preparing a final report with its findings and recommendations, which will help Special Olympics NYS understand how best to utilize volunteers in the future. For many students who shared their experiences being a part of the 2015 Winter Games, the assignment went well beyond understanding and mastering research methodologies.

“Participating as a volunteer surveyor was a rewarding experience overall. Watching the athletes smile when the crowd would cheer their names was an awesome epxerience, knowing how much time and effort they had all put in for their moment of stardom out on the ice with the opportunity to advance to the next level of competition. I learned that competing at Special Olympics means so much,” said student Joseph Bongiorno.

Classmate Rafael Rodriguez-Ema echoed a similar sentiment. “Attending this event gave me knowledge on what the Special Olympics is and its role in the community.” Nearly 1,000 athletes and coaches from across the state participated in the Games during the weekend of February 6-7 that featured competitions in alpine skiing, cross- country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey and snowshoeing.

Event venues included Greek Peak, Highland Forest Park, The Oncenter, Thornden Park and War Memorial Arena. Students from associate professor of sport management Jeff Pauline’s classes volunteered at the opening ceremonies at the ONCenter on February 6, along with graduate students in the Falk College’s sport venue and events management master’s program taught by associate professor of sport management, Gina Pauline, who also serves on the Special Olympics NYS Board of Directors.

“Before collecting data, I decided to take a few minutes and watch the games being played. The athletes proved to me that sport is such an amazing industry. The games were competitive. When I watched two floor hockey players fight for the puck, one fell to the ground, the other helped him up, and then both tapped each other on the head in a sign of sportsmanship,” said student Justin Mattingly. “I like to consider myself well versed in the industry that is sport. But I didn’t realize just how special sport really is until Saturday.”