Offbeat and unique course offerings sweep Miami schools

LIV nightclub. Real Housewives. Beaches. Cannabis. These terms are not just associated with Miami, but with course offerings at local colleges and universities.

Students can learn to create their own business empires in “The David Grutman Experience: The Class” at the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University.

Grutman, an entrepreneur who owns Groot Hospitality – an agency that owns several dining and nightlife properties in Miami – is teaching students how to build a brand using digital and social strategies, using his businesses as examples.

Students spend time inside and outside of the classroom. They meet at their first-time professor’s restaurants and clubs like Komodo and LIV and later review them in class.

On the first day, the course, held at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus, started trending on social media after students uploaded videos of DJ Khaled, a special guest Grutman brought in.

Grutman has been a featured guest at the annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival, a weekend-long event that brings in a lineup of major culinary professionals. The festival benefits the Chaplin School.

“I love speaking in schools and I love talking about my businesses. For me, I’m such a lucky guy to be doing what I do,” he said. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it and I want to be able to convey that to people, especially for the next generation.”

At FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus, a course titled “Special Topics in Communications Art – Real Housewives go to College” also had its first run in the fall semester.

The course looks at communication patterns such as nonverbal, interpersonal, conflict and advertising in reality television using the Real Housewives franchise. The main focus is on four installments of the show: New York, Atlanta, Beverly Hills and Orange County.

No textbooks are required – only a subscription to streaming service Hulu.

As communication professors and avid reality television watchers, Gabriella Portela, Jessica Delgado and Aileen Izquierdo wanted to figure out how they can tie the two subjects that they love together.

“The idea was for students to be able to have a little bit of fun but understand these concepts – put together those concepts that we see in a textbook and see it on a big screen playing out,” Delgado said.

For Portela, it has been great to watch the transformation of students that questioned the class in the beginning.

“We had a divide in the beginning. We had the loyal Bravo followers that love the show, and this is like a dream to them,” Portela said. “And then we did have a few skeptical students that were like, ‘I don’t watch reality TV,  I don’t like this.’ And then two to three weeks into the class, they come up to us after class and begin to discuss the show and the theories.”

Not all students came in to the class because they loved the show. Many figured it would be an interesting, non-serious communications course.

“I think that through the course, [the students] have been able to see the value of bringing pop culture into the classroom to grasp these concepts,” Delgado said.

At the University of Miami, Professor Martin Nesvig also pushes back against the idea that a class is easy based on its title. His class is quite a breeze, but only because it’s based on the beach.

“The Beach: The Beach as a Place, Space and Event in World Historical Context” dives into the history of beaches globally, studying its landscape, marine life and development. There is also a social justice element in the class. For example, black and Hispanic people had restricted beach access in 1960s Miami. Topics such as climate change and beach spaces for different sexual orientations are also discussed.

According to Nesvig, the idea of the class is to think about all the different structural, geographic, cultural, socio-economic themes that happen on the sand.

“The idea of beaches as a place where you go to hang out, have fun and go on vacation, is something relatively new for the rest of the world. It wasn’t until about the second half of the 19th century that people started thinking of the beach as a place for recreation. Before that, most people in most parts of the world did not view the beach as a fun place to go. In Brazil, for example, the beach was where people threw out the trash,” Nesvig said.

Nesvig was born in San Diego and moved to Miami Beach because of his love for the seaside. He began to teach the course after getting bored teaching the same courses for eight years. The idea for the class came from a friend of his at the University of Wyoming, Arian Bantjes, that passed away in an automobile crash nine years ago.

“He was, like me, a Mexican historian and his favorite thing in life was to go fly fishing,” Nesvig said. “He taught a class on the history of fly fishing and everybody told him, ‘That’s not a real class, that’s an excuse for you to talk about fishing.’ I kind of got the idea from that and I spent a lot of years doing research on all these different ways you can think about the history of beaches.”

As he did research, he realized the possibilities are endless. “I could probably teach this class three semesters in a row and not run out of material. There actually is that much material out there,” he said.

But an actual three-course series does exist at Miami Dade College – though for pot. The cannabis specialist program, offered at the north campus, includes “Biology of Cannabis,” “Chemistry of Cannabis” and “Florida Cannabis Policy and Regulation.” With this program, MDC will be the first college in the state to offer a certification for the medical marijuana industry.

The only course running this semester, though, is on weed laws and regulations. Taught by Professor Ivonne Villar Duran, it sets the foundation for the specialist program. Duran could not be reached for comment, and Dean Michaela Tomova declined to say anything about the program other than it continues to be developed.

Higher education costs a lot of money, so there’s no time for dull lectures. So far this fall, this series of unique college courses are sure to keep students’ attention.

Bianca Marcof is a journalism major at Florida International University. She is interested in multimedia reporting, but her favorite thing to do is write.