Professor's research, training contributed to international award for historical park

Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

January 12, 2010

Research and training conducted by Ball State University language expert Mary Theresa Seig contributed to an international recognition for Central Indiana's Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions recently named Conner Prairie as the winner of its Spirit of Excellence award for Best Guest Services Training Program. The award honored the interactive history park for its "Opening Doors to Great Guest Experiences" training resource.

Seig, an associate English professor who specializes in the analysis of oral discourse, assisted Conner Prairie as the park changed the way workers interact with visitors. The park is Indiana's only Smithsonian Institution affiliate, where guests may engage, explore and discover what it was like to live and play in the early 1800s. 

Through funding initially provided by Ball State, Seig examined how interpreters interacted with visitors by recording family conversations as they toured the park. Conner Prairie staff and Seig then examined several thousand pages of transcripts to find that the park's mission as a learning environment was not being fully realized.

"I've been working with Conner Prairie since 2001, and the changes we've enacted have been phenomenal in improving interaction between guests and interpreters," Seig said. "It really has been a team effort.

"As a consultant with the park, I am proud that Conner Prairie has been recognized internationally for improving the experience of its guests."

As a result of Seig's and the university's efforts, Conner Prairie revamped its interpretive programs by implementing new  training procedure based on transformative guest research, documented best practices from the attractions industry and information-learning principles. 

Museums and other attractions in all 50 states and more than a dozen countries have implemented the Conner Prairie training program through a DVD/CD-ROM resource created by the park in cooperation with Seig.

"The work by Mary Theresa Seig was vital in moving the Opening Doors project forward," said Dan Freas, vice president of guest experience at Conner Prairie. "Her research was invaluable. Having an oral discourse analyst working on the project gave us great insight on what was needed to enhance the experiences of our guests."

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