Leveling the Hospitality Playing Field

Posted: Friday, December 5th 2014 at 4:35 AM

If you can’t always bring hospitality industry leaders to the students, then bring the students to them.

National Society of Minorities in Hospitality

This leveling of the playing field is one goal of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH: www.nsmh.org), an organization which seeks to create an environment within the hospitality industry where more ethnic minorities secure the leadership positions for which they are qualified.

NSMH gives students from hospitality schools access to industry leaders’ recruiters – Hyatt, Marriott, Four Seasons, Starwood, just to name a few – at the NSMH regional and national conferences.

This year’s West/MidWest regional conference was held in San Diego, California from October 31 – November 1, 2014. Twenty-two NAU School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (SHRM) students attended and were accompanied by their faculty advisor, Kathleen King.

The students had to pay for all expenses beyond lodging, including transportation. The NSMH students raised the necessary funds for the conference by seeking financial support from local businesses, and partnering with local restaurants that host supporters and donate 10% of the evening’s proceeds to the club.

All students (first year through seniors) are encouraged to participate in this unique opportunity to engage with the hospitality industry. Some of the SHRM students were also able to interview with recruiters representing major corporations in the industry, who don’t currently recruit at NAU. 

Student Takeaways

“The NSMH regional conference was one of the best weekends of the semester, because I learned to be confident in myself when trying to get a job. The weekend also reassured me I am studying the right major and wanting to deliver the best customer service in the hospitality industry. NSMH has created another family for me and has helped me get more involved with hospitality and with helping our community!” said junior Kelly Hendricks.

“I just wanted to thank you all for such an amazing weekend! ...before leaving Flagstaff I felt so out of my comfort zone, but after arriving in San Diego, I enjoyed every minute of the conference. Thanks to everyone who made it great and welcomed me in so graciously!” said freshman Emily Thompson.

The Lodging Conference

Wielding connections for the benefit of our students is one of the many ways The W. A. Franke College of Business (FCB) supporters give back. John Cauvin, executive in residence and director of the FCB MBA with a hospitality focus (MBA-h), has been attending the Lodging Conference for 19 of its 20 years. He and Kelli Westerdahl, MBA-h coordinator, realized while attending last year’s conference that there were students in the halls and thought, “How could we bring OUR students here?”

According to the conference website, “More than 40,000 hotels are represented and …over 85% of conference attendees are Presidents and CEO’s or run their own company brand or business unit.” Cauvin thought this would be an amazing opportunity for SHRM students.

FCB Dean Van Slyke suggested that the students “work the conference” along with the conference staff. Cauvin negotiated a partnership that would be beneficial for both the SHRM students and the conference. The $2,195 registration was waived in return for students working the conference. This had never been done in the 20 years of the Lodging Conference. Cauvin served as a Think Tank panelist. Dr. Wanda Costen, SHRM executive director, Cauvin, and Westerdahl were all invited to attend free of charge.

“We are very grateful to Len Zullo, one the three key organizers of the conference, who made this opportunity [for our students] happen. We want to thank Harry Javer, conference president, and Morris Lasky, conference chairman, for supporting this endeavor,” said Cauvin. Students in the senior-level capstone course applied for the opportunity to work and attend the conference. The selection process included a short essay and an interview with Cauvin and Westerdahl. Three seniors traveled to the Biltmore in Phoenix for the 4-day conference, which was held October 20–23.

The students helped with a variety of duties: handing out swag bags; Think Tank room counts; greeting and directing traffic; and running microphones–all of which gave the students hands-on event management experience. In exchange, they attended the Think Tank sessions and expos; networked with participants; and experienced the numerous “legendary” food functions.

“They made some excellent connections. The conference staff and organizers were very happy with them as well, and we look forward to doing this again next year,” said Westerdahl.

“We are very proud of our students. They were very professional and represented SHRM extremely well,” said Cauvin.

Student Takeaways

“The Lodging Conference opened my eyes to sides of the industry I had never focused on before. To my amazement, I found myself speaking to a variety of companies that weren’t even hotels! My new interest includes pursuing a career in revenue management, sales or analytics,” said Claudia Aguilera.

“This conference gave me an opportunity to see the different fields that I could potentially go into instead of a managerial role. [During the think tanks,] it was great to hear the different solutions to problems their hotels may be experiencing, and the upcoming potential changes to the hospitality industry,” said Vanessa Green.

“Listening to speakers such as Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of American Hotel & Lodging Association and Vail R. Brown, V.P. Global Business, Development and Marketing of STR, was priceless. ...to be able to hear what is trending in hospitality, what we need to focus on to be successful, is something we can learn from,” said Justin Jordan.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to help defray the costs students incur to attend these types of events, please contact Dr. Wanda Costen, SHRM executive director, at (928) 523-0644 or wanda.costen@nau.edu.

Categories: flagstaff business news nau business news fall 2014 2014 december 2014 leveling the hospitality playing field national society of minorities in hospitality nsmh the lodging conference kathleen king kelly hendricks emily thompson john cauvin kelli westerdahl dr. wanda costen len zullo harry javer morris lasky claudia aguilera justin jordan vanessa green