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West Federation


Michael Wray
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Campus Box 60, PO Box 17362
Denver, Colorado, USA 80217

What Makes a Hospitality School Great - Part II?

To encourage discussion, debate, and reflection upon what makes a hospitality school great, this article presents a follow-up to the last issue where attendees of the February 10-11, 2017 West Federation annual conference engaged in conversation with  Keynote speaker Jeff Cava, former EVP at Starwood Hotels on the topic of “What Makes a Hospitality Schoo l Great.”  As a pre-cursor to that discussion and provide some theoretical underpinnings, attendees were challenged to consider the works of George D. Kuh, Director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, NSSE and the 10 High Impact Practices heralded as a framework for academic excellence in high achieving institutions and programs as follows:

First-Year Seminars and Experiences
Common Intellection Experiences
Learning Communities
Writing-Intensive Courses
Collaborative Assignments and Projects
Undergraduate Research
Diversity/Global Learning
Service Learning and Community Based Learning
Capstone Courses and Projects

Jeff’s perspective presented some similarities and contrasts to the 10 High Impact Practices. His success and sometimes failure was generated from a lifetime of entrepreneurial mindset where he relied upon skills and values imparted from varied sources, his family, work experience, and college life while a student at San Diego State University. No single source of influence emerged as the key…or smoking gun related to success, however a spirit of quality and caring customer service balanced with operational skill were common themes. Jeff traced his career and identified some of his successes and failures that provide a means for reflection for us as educators who strive to foster a mind and skillset that improves a student’s opportunities to survive and thrive in a competitive marketplace, in turn…make a hospitality school great.

His early career success began in a ski shop in Winter Park, CO where he capitalized on a skillset that could identify market niches that were not properly served by the competition. Jeff devised means to open his ski-shop early and provide last minute turn-in of equipment.  His business survived by taking a difficult path that others were not willing or able to take. As Jeff advanced in his career he learned that there were some common attributes to success that were developed in his college experience, some of which may be obvious to us, but were good to hear as we often do these things well…and some, maybe not so well that we could do better.  As a C-level executive in human resources at major organizations including Disney, Nike, and Starwood hotels, Jeff was uniquely positioned to reflect upon the skillset necessary of our most talented hospitality professionals.

Jeff points to some of the usual suspects that relate to developing a talented workforce, of which we as hospitality educators play a vital role.  Since faculty are the major vehicle for engaging and imparting knowledge to students, they should do so with currency in their field and strive to remain relevant to students and current industry needs and trends.  When activities are planned, they are best delivered with a balance of theory and experiences gained through transformative activities that are the highest impact.  Such knowledge is best constructed through experience in authentic and realistic settings, not only in our classrooms, but engaged in service to the community, with faculty and industry mentors, and engaged both locally and globally.  Some of the success points leading to excellence are quite similar to the high impact practices of internships, service learning, capstone courses, and working in teams/collaborating, but Jeff pointed out that we are often disconnected with global perspectives and the true meaning of diversity.

As a human resources executive, Jeff is very aware of the importance of global perspectives and diversity, however he said we often confuse diversity as a North American perspective.  To him we could foster a broader view encompassing a much broader view more relevant to peoples of the globe, not just locally.  To Jeff, our world is smaller and current students see it that way, but our institutional mindset sometimes does not.

In our specific field, hospitality education, Jeff indicated that we could do much better on the analytical means to which we support decision making. In today’s hospitality industry a manager needs to impart change from an informed basis. To do so, they need more than descriptive means to analyze financial statements and key success points such as REVPAR, more so there is a need to make predictions and present contributing factors to REVPAR and other benchmarks of success.  To prepare our students to thrive in an analytical driven field, Jeff recommends stressing more inferential statistics so that our graduates can assure that their businesses thrive and “make money.”  To do so they need to set successful outcome goals and continually analyze what factors lead to and sustain successful outcomes.

Jeff reminded us that our graduates need to survive in a brand driven economy. Our students must have the mindset and unique skills to define what a brand truly is and be able to infer what operational and financial decisions we made supported the brand. To illustrate this point, Jeff highlighted one key analytic…REVPAR. In his work, it was much more than describing what REVPAR was by unit, location, and brand, it was determining the customer service ratings at varied units and identifying the predictive nature of high customer service index scores to REVPAR. To Jeff, our graduates need to hone skills that drive financial and brand success. Since such analytics lead to change, graduates must know how to manage change. Jeff suggested we reconsider the importance of organizational behavior and how we can implement change in respect of traditional barriers to change. Jeff suggested we could stress again the importance of leadership and organizational behavior courses and topics that build a skillset to carry through initiatives from concept to execution and measure their success in a continuous cycle.  To do so, graduates need highly analytical decision making skills and successful processes that identify the causes of problems/defects and implements change that can be measured.  Such quality outcome measures are often found in the sequence of steps in Six-Sigma, first introduced by Bill Smith while working at Motorola in 1986 and now used in multiple industry sectors including hospitality. Jeff hinted that our graduates could be better prepared to thrive in a globally diverse industry and workforce that is data driven and requires them to be able to identify problems, deconstruct their complexity and devise a process of improvement and means to benchmark their success.

To me, as one educator in the audience, I was in part thrilled to see communalities in theory and execution in our programs in hospitality education.  Jeff pointed to some familiar aspects of excellence as comfortable as a warm blanket, such as; internships, work experience, mentoring, diversity, and global perspectives.  However, I also felt challenged and quite humbled by what it would take to truly have a great hospitality program. It seems the gauntlet is thrown down by the perspectives provided in this keynote. Not all schools/programs are great…and some will never be. If one strives to be at the core of greatness, it seemed to me, that from Jeff’s viewpoint and that of our educational theorists, we need to take a step back and look at the college experience holistically.  In that, a student gains value and skills from a mindset that is fundamentally entrepreneurial. Their knowledge is constructed in reflection of all of their coursework and life experiences as a whole. These graduates will need to thrive in a globally diverse industry with a skillset that can identify problems and impart creative solutions in a complex environment. Perhaps we think again how important all of our coursework is and more so, how we in our capstone courses tie it all together and foster problem identification and solution implementation skills.  Curiously, it seems we can’t do this alone. This process of mentorship is hinged upon active involvement in our industry and communities where our students continually reflect upon their standing in the community of hospitality professionals. Sometimes on the periphery striving to be at the core of successful leaders. To manage their personal development educational institutions could take a broader perspective of guiding students from their periphery position looking into the industry that they want to be a part of and determine together a path to navigate to the core of those identifying and maintaining successful brands.


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