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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?

At the February 10-11, 2017 West Federation annual conference we are pleased to welcome Keynote speaker Jeff Cava, alumnus of our host institution, San Diego State University, and former EVP at Starwood Hotels.  Jeff will engage us on the topic of; What Makes a Hospitality School Great? As the Chief Human Resources Officer for both Starwood and previously Wendy’s Company, Nike, and Walt Disney Company, Jeff has worked to recruit and retain the best and brightest hospitality talent in the industry.  

As Jeff prepares his thoughts from the employer angle, I thought to utilize the Communique-Forum to add to discussion how universities and educational research view aspects of instructional and program design to make schools great. My hope is to provide a follow-up article in another communique article on our attendee responses to Jeff’s presentation and their own perceptions of program quality.  I’ll be asking attendees; what do you think makes a hospitality school great?  

The purpose of this article is to provide input to the conversation regarding what makes a hospitality school great. I ask our readers and conference attendees to consider the preponderance of empirical evidence on quality in higher education.  Separate from program quality research that commonly looks at quality benchmarks such as; faculty credentials, scholarly products, funding, library, graduation rates, number of students, quality of alumni, etc., is the research focused on the quality of “learning” in higher education. The most prolific, highly funded and largest data sets in educational research comes from George D. Kuh, Director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. Much of the institute’s work is based upon the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), within which recommendations were summarized in a highly valued report, High-Impact Practices in 2008.

The report summarizes ten highly impactful and educationally purposeful practices that contribute most toward positive student outcomes.  These practices are based upon multiple studies on student involvement and those practices that most successfully engage them and contribute toward student success, persistence, retention, and graduation.  I am summarizing the recommendations in this article with some additional comments and thoughts for consideration amongst hospitality educators as we seek to plan instructional activities that contribute most to program quality or “greatness.”

First-Year Seminars and Experiences
At my university and many others, a cohort of students in their first year focus on critical inquiry, frequent writing, information literacy, collaborative learning, and study skills.  Some schools assign at-risk and lower performing students in these cohorts, but more schools…and the most valued are broadly implementing such seminars for all students, regardless of level of preparation prior to college.  What I am curious about however is how well individual degree programs integrate the same concepts for those students that declare a hospitality major.  Ask yourself and others in your own setting if there is much integration with the first-year seminar and that which goes on in a student’s first-year in your own department?  If first-year success is valued in the institution as a whole, should we leave these activities be as a marginalized activity or integrate and collaborate to broaden the scope of first-year success?

Common Intellectual Experiences
What we used to refer to as the “core” or required courses in a curriculum has evolved toward a learning community approach where courses are organized by a community of learners around a common subject matter.  By linking courses in a common major or concentration, students investigate broader themes that involve competencies across the curriculum with a variety of options for students to investigate common themes of interest both in and out of the classroom.  Such big questions that “matter” to students, such as service to their community and global issues would involve hospitality professors working together along with students in multiple courses across the curriculum.  When experiences are common among learners they form another high impact practice, a Learning Community. A community of learners function best when formed naturally based upon the interests of the members.  Implementing such approaches requires much flexibility and collaboration among faculty and students in multiple courses.  If there are hospitality schools out there that have successful models of how learning across the curriculum is applied in a hospitality setting…inquiring minds want to know!  Is it feasible to organize courses in common themes based upon student interest?  If so, how are these communities contributing toward student outcomes?

Writing-Intensive Courses
As hospitality educators we often create assignments that require writing, sometimes individually, and at other times in group or as a final project.  Although we often due so individually, the most effective practice is to emphasize writing at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum, including final-year or program projects. Complicating this practice is providing a means for students to produce and revise various forms of writing for different audiences in different disciplines. Such collaboration once again calls upon faculty to collaborate with other disciplines and allow students a forum for revising their work.  The implementation of such broad assignments across the hospitality discipline is a great challenge indeed.  I for one am most interested to hear stories from our peers regarding how the repeated practice of writing across the curriculum.  I’m curious as to how writing across the curriculum has led to parallel efforts in areas that support the quality of writing products, such as quantitative reasoning, oral communication, information literacy, service to our campuses and community, and production of ethically and academically sound products.

Collaborative Assignments and Projects
Ok…so students dread a group project, yet they often state that producing a high quality product is among their most valued activities in college and can contribute to much skill development in both the competencies required to produce a quality product and the ability to work collaboratively in teams. The nature of teamwork requires students to solve problems in the company of others and sharpen their understanding of the problem at hand by actively listening to the insights of others, especially those with diverse backgrounds and experiences. This collaborative approach is most likely highly implemented in hospitality courses and programs.  My suspicions are that…we got this one!  Perhaps one aspect of successful collaboration that might be shared is how well we as teachers facilitate group progress. I’d love to hear from peers as to how they first form, and successfully manage the storm that occurs in group work and how we access both individual achievements and how team members contribute toward the final product.  I’d like to challenge a peer or two to share their successes in managing quality student outcomes in group assignments. Perhaps consider this topic for our 2018 conference.

Undergraduate Research
In the Western Federation we purposefully foster scholarship at all levels of higher education by offering a scholarship to present their scholarly work. This year we awarded six $500 scholarships to faculty, undergraduate and graduate students to attend and present their work at our conference. Undergraduate research, however, has not been as successful in hospitality education as science disciplines who benefit from external financial support.  This is exactly why our board felt it necessary to support academic inquiry at all levels, especially undergraduate where we need to encourage students to connect key concepts and questions early in their academic career and promote active involvement in systematic investigation and research. The goal is for us to involve students with actively contested questions and empirical observation, and the technologies, required to answer such questions. I for one will be first in line at all student presentations at our upcoming conference. If we encourage these students at the undergraduate level we in turn foster both skills and interest in graduate level work.

Diversity/Global Learning
Great universities emphasize courses and programs that help students explore cultures, life experiences, and global views different from their own. These great institutions address U.S. diversity and global cultures to explore “difficult differences” such as racial, ethnic, and gender inequality, human rights, freedom, and power. The form of such development is more than individual or faculty led study abroad.  Great schools are highly engaged in their own communities with another highly impactful practice, Service Learning and Community-Based Learning. The goal of community engagement is to give students perspective of both theory and practice by conducting field experience to analyze and solve problems in the community. By connecting in our community students have to both apply what they are learning in real-world settings and reflect in a classroom setting on their service experiences. These programs not only promote positive community relations, they foster amongst students the value of giving something back to the community that their current and future hospitality organizations serve.  Such activities are great preparation for citizenship, work, and life.

Internships and field experience are common in hospitality curriculum. The goal is to provide experience in a work setting related to their field of study.  For hospitality educators our students tend to have the same jobs that most college students have; restaurants, bars, hotels and other service industry jobs.  The key difference however is that an internship provides students with the benefit of supervision and coaching from professionals in their field of study. We could share more in non-hospitality journals what we have learned from creating for-credit internship courses that investigate current industry problems and produce a formal project or paper under the supervision of both an industry and course advisor.  For this aspect of program quality we might have a lesson or two for the broader higher education community.

Capstone Courses and Projects
Sometimes called “senior experience,” or “capstone project,” these summative experiences require students nearing the end of their college years to produce a product that applies what they’ve learned throughout their college experience. Whether a research paper or a portfolio of “best work,” capstones are offered both in departmental programs and, increasingly, in a place of student choosing outside their major. A common expression is that a Capstone is a “book-end” to a college career with the first-year or introductory coursework at the beginning and a capstone at the end.  We have much opportunity here to discuss and share best practices in the types of projects that are successful in hospitality capstone courses.  How and why hospitality competencies are applied in such coursework is of great interest to us as educators.  Interestingly, this key product produced by students often integrates some of the other successful practices discussed in this article such as; service learning, field experience, study abroad, and undergraduate research.

So there you have it!  Ten high-impact practices in higher education applied to a hospitality setting.  The question is then turned to us as a peer-group. For those attending the upcoming Western Federation conference or those attending their own regional or our national conference, consider the ten practices discussed in this article as it may apply to your own setting.  I’m inviting you all as a readership to connect with me and your peers and share your thoughts on what makes a hospitality school great.

Kuh, G., D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter, Association of American Colleges and Universities, AAC&U Bookstore,


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