Peter Ward: Teaching Across Borders

The summer after high school was transformative for BYU recreation management associate professor Peter Ward. He set off on a six-week European trip—a graduation gift from his grandmother—and learned about himself, others, and problem-solving.

“So you’ve graduated from high school,” his grandmother had told him. “Now go get a real education.”

Despite his tour guide’s warnings against it, Ward decided to leave his tour group and go off to explore on his own, taking a night train from Italy to France. He did not know how to manage exchange rates, so he wound up buying a bottle of water for $25.

“I learned that it’s better sometimes to sit back and figure it out before doing that,” Ward says.

Ward has now traveled to nineteen countries—fourteen of those with his wife, Carri, and their three sons—and his belief in travel’s ability to teach has continued to grow. When he was invited to lead Marriott School study abroad programs as a faculty advisor, Ward accepted without hesitation. He now enjoys guiding students through their own international experiences.

Last summer Ward led eight Marriott School students as well as his oldest son on a field experience in Mukono Town, Uganda. Ward had previously researched in Uganda with associate recreation management professor Stacy Taniguchi, and he used his connections there, as well as his interest in adolescent behavior and his twenty years of coaching experience, to create this international research opportunity. The students coached soccer, volleyball, netball, and Frisbee in eight local schools to teach the children life skills such as problem-solving and leadership. They then examined how the local children applied the skills they learned while playing sports to other parts of their lives.

“In Uganda they have a really good education system,” Ward says. “Students go through at a big cost to their families and themselves, but they don’t have the life skills to get out and be successful employees, to be successful entrepreneurs. We worked to develop some of those skills among the youth there.”

In Uganda, Ward ensured the coaching program at each school was following the correct guidelines established by the study. Ward visited the schools and observed his students’ work, but he never cut in. His role was to guide his students and ensure unity within the program, while the students’ role was to coach and teach the children. With these different roles, Ward and his students worked together to implement the study and make a difference in the local children’s lives. Ward says these opportunities to influence, grow, and change are what drive his life.

“I like to do something meaningful, something that’ll make a difference in people’s lives,” he says.

In summer 2017, Ward will lead a new Marriott School study abroad through fourteen European countries over sixty-five days. Students will visit tourist spots, meet with management, and volunteer at local festivals. According to Ward, students will go deep into different cultures to build up a diverse pool of experience.

Ward says international experiences shape students’ lives just as the experiences and students continue to shape his.

“I get a big extended family,” Ward says. “Some of them we’ve stayed very close to.”

Ward received a BS in business marketing in 1998; an MBA in 2003; and a PhD in parks, recreation, and tourism with an emphasis in adolescent development in 2007, all from the University of Utah.

Ward enjoys skiing, especially at Alta Ski Area, and canyoneering with his family. He also coaches his son’s lacrosse team and likes to take his sons bird hunting.

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BYU recreation management associate professor Peter Ward poses with a Ugandan girl he and his family sponsor. Photo courtesy of Peter Ward.