Tec Clark had just joined Nova Southeastern University’s campus recreation team when the school’s president came to him for a refresher course on scuba diving.
“I definitely put the president through the paces. And at the end of the refresher course, [he] said, ‘I learned more in my refresher course with you than I learned in both my open water course and my advanced open water course combined. What is with that?’” said Clark.
His answer was academic diving. Clark explained it as diving taught at a higher skill and academic level. For example, while one can go to a dive shop to obtain a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water Diver certification in three days, Nova’s PADI beginner course takes six weeks. Clark said they teach a well-rounded curriculum, like how to use tools from the latest technology to dive tables.
The words ‘academic diving’ sparked the president’s interest. “His eyes lit up and he said, ‘Write me a proposal,’ and that’s literally how our program got started,” said Clark, the associate director for aquatics and scuba diving at Nova.
Currently, Clark is leading the school’s academic diving program into its fourth year. There are several audiences it reaches: recreation focused divers, students in the marine sciences division and parents of interested teens. Each has different needs the program is tailored toward. From graduate students looking to attain their American Academy of Underwater Sciences designation to parents whose teenagers are interested in diving, Nova offers in-depth PADI course and certifications.
“That’s one of the secrets to why we are so successful, is the amount of skill repeats and skill variation that we do in all of our pool sessions,” said Clark. “What that does is it makes our divers really, really comfortable. So when they go diving, they’re great. So, we’ve spent a lot of time in the pool, a lot of time giving them academics. And that way, when they come out and actually go diving, they’re really into it because they have made an investment, and they feel comfortable and confident.”
Of course, Clark needs to staff his diving program with instructors ready to teach at an academic diving program level. So, if someone wants to become a divemaster, they will have to attend a semester-long course in Nova’s academic diving program. Additionally, they’ll have to attend staff meetings, assist in an actual pool session and go on diving excursion weekends. “It’s really a huge mentorship that they’re going through to become a divemaster. And we go over in great detail legal issues and law and cases and so many things that are just pertinent to campus recreation,” said Clark.
Having instructors in-house is quite different then partnering with a dive shop for classes. In fact, Clark explained that having internal dive programs allows for the students to be the first priority, something not necessarily done by dive shops. But, it takes someone knowledgeable who can own the program to run it successfully. “You need to have somebody that has that sensibility to say this is our program, and there’s a lot of ownership to that, a lot of pride, and ownership to saying this is our program and this is how we do it right,” said Clark.
Overall, Clark believes a diving program can be a very popular item to add to a school’s rec center. For Nova’s academic diving program however, word of mouth and its reputation have helped it succeed. “That resonates with people that so many previous students have just raved about how thorough our training is, how good our training is, how good we are with our scuba equipment and everything,” said Clark.