On Jan. 14, hospitality business juniors Live Cannella and Miquela Ochoa presented virtually at the fifth annual Diversity Research Showcase as part of Michigan State University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration. The showcase is one of a few undergraduate research conferences held at MSU and focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion topics, which help students gain better awareness and understanding of the importance of these values.

For their presentation, titled “The Impact of National Policy of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Current Trends and Growth in the Hospitality Industry,” Cannella and Ochoa received the Outstanding Research Promise Award, earning them a cash prize of $200 to continue their research. In addition, Cannella received the Diversity Research Showcase Best Oral Presentation cash prize of $500.

Live Cannella headshot

Live Cannella, hospitality business junior

Cannella and Ochoa’s presentation highlighted their preliminary research on the impactful role the hospitality business industry has on the well-being of society. They explored the potential influence DEI policy has on advancing the hospitality industry as well as vice versa: how influential the hospitality industry can be on policy.

“Our goals are to have a holistic view of what influence comes first, what type of changes occur due to DEI policy and their role in hospitality development, and where we can improve, both as an industry and society,” Ochoa explained. “Understanding the implications of policy changes to business success is crucial, and DEI policy is no exception.”

The duo’s research emphasizes how people are at the center of hospitality business and DEI. Cannella and Ochoa hope their work will inspire those within the industry to recognize their significant role in society and initiate real progress.

“We are by far one of the richest industries and employ a great number of workers globally. We also happen to be one of the most diverse, thus fighting for our people seems like a vital part of our role in society,” Cannella said. “I have hopes that measuring how U.S. government policy has affected the industry will lead to a strong relationship between politics and HB. If big HB names lobbied for equitable government policy for marginalized groups, society and our industry would benefit greatly from it.”

Ochoa added, “Hospitality is service, and service means people — knowing people, understanding people, accepting people. It’s important to release the negative connotations surrounding diversity in the workplace because ultimately, representation matters in an industry based around people. Everybody deserves a seat at the table, and we hope to contribute to ensuring everyone has one.”

Since last fall, Cannella has also been working as a research assistant for MiRan Kim, associate professor of hospitality business, and was given the opportunity to assist Kim with the analysis portion of a study focused on the importance of inclusive leadership and its impact on hotel employees’ job satisfaction and team-member exchange. Cannella was intrigued by the study because of the implications it provided for workplace demographics.

“Many of the independent variables had different and significant results based on racial identity. This is important information and a great topic of conversation to bring up to leaders when discussing how and why their employees are not satisfied with work,” she said.

Kim added, “Through DEI research experiences, students can have an opportunity to better understand people and learn how to communicate effectively with people who have different backgrounds, perspectives and beliefs. In the hospitality industry, DEI has become a core business priority so that companies can attract and retain the best talent in the industry.”

With no prior research experience, both Cannella and Ochoa gained incredible insights and feedback from the forum panel and gained a deeper understanding of research and how truly important it can be. They also gained valuable mentorship and friendship built on a shared passion for hospitality business.

Miquela Ochoa headshot

Miquela Ochoa, hospitality business junior

“Dr. MiRan Kim has created an environment that Live and I are able to do real, meaningful work with her invaluable guidance. I feel honored to work with Live under Dr. Kim and look forward to representing the School of Hospitality Business and Broad College of Business in the future,” Ochoa shared. “We plan to present our findings at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum this April and are actively seeking additional forums to participate in.”

Through undergraduate research experiences like these, Spartans take on an opportunity to enrich learning in an engaging way outside of traditional coursework.

“I have enjoyed mentoring them a lot because Live and Miquela are curious, talented, diligent and learn quickly about research work, including the research presentations,” Kim said, encouraging students to seek guidance from professors if they wish to pursue a research experience. “Their research topics are interesting and timely; the findings of their studies can provide great insights and implications to the industry.”

Cannella shared how it felt to show people what she cares about. “It is not often that you are placed in a room full of people who have set aside time in their day to listen to you speak. I learned that regardless of the data, regardless of the pictures or a script, people pay attention to passion. You have to seize those moments when you get passed the mic to make it really count.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion are core values for MSU and the Broad College. It’s through the ongoing work of Spartans like Cannella and Ochoa that these values are brought to life every day.