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Hospitality business students win Best Proposal Research at global conference

By Vivian Tran, student writer
Monday, June 19, 2023

On April 14, a team of Broad Spartans traveled to Las Vegas to attend the 2023 Tourism, Hospitality, and Event Conference for Researchers, Educators, Practitioners and Students, also known as THEREPS. Conference attendees shared their expertise through completed research, research in progress, case studies and open discussion in stand-up presentations, poster presentations and undergraduate research forums.

“MSU hospitality business student teams have attended THEREPS conference for many years and have often earned awards. It is a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to get involved with research projects during their undergraduate years,” JaeMin Cha, faculty adviser and associate professor in the School of Hospitality Business, said.

Cha and hospitality business associate professor Seung Hyun (James) Kim served as mentors for the winning MSU team, composed of hospitality business students and undergraduate research fellows Lukas Biermann, a rising junior, and Tyler Dahms, Alice Kim and Diana Talamantes-Valles, rising seniors. Their project “Preparing for Generation Z With Cultural Intelligence in the Hospitality Industry” stood out among the 11 participating teams from across the United States to earn Best Proposal Research in the Undergraduate Student Research Forum.

Teams were evaluated by hospitality professors from other universities and representatives of the Korean American Tourism and Hospitality Educators Association based on their ability to communicate their topic clearly, precisely and cohesively.

A winning idea

The MSU team’s proposal sought to determine what indicators lead to increased cultural intelligence among aspiring hospitality professionals and why cultural intelligence is a relevant skill in the current industry. The students gathered their background research through scholarly articles and by conducting interviews with industry professionals.

“We wanted to explore how universities and hospitality industries can build cultural understanding and awareness for all of their students and employees in order to cultivate cross-cultural leaders,” Talamantes-Valles said.

“Our team is made up of culturally diverse individuals with team members from countries like Germany, Mexico and Korea,” Biermann said. “Growing up, we have had to develop our own cultural intelligence through expanding our language skills and learning cultural norms of several countries. This project fit well with our own background knowledge and is relevant to hospitality business.”

Truly embracing their unique cultural experiences, spending hours reading research papers over the course of a semester and a half, taking the time to learn more about their respective cultures and learning how that impacted each of their cultural views helped lead the team to success. As students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, having a deep understanding and awareness of cultures outside of their own has been very important to help navigate their academic as well as professional careers.

“Our team greatly benefited from the expert counsel of our professors Dr. JaeMin Cha and Dr. James Kim, who were extremely dedicated to helping us conduct our research,” Biermann said. “Our team was successful because of our extensive preparation, excellent faculty support and connection to our research topic.”

“This was extremely valuable for my future career in hospitality business because it helped me define what kind of business leader I want to be.”

A key takeaway for the team was seeing firsthand how important research is for the hospitality industry.

“This project challenged us by asking, ‘How could we better hospitality leaders to thrive and better serve the globally diverse industry we work within?’” Talamantes-Valles explained. “It helped me realize that asking these tough questions is important, and it’s possible to propose a solution. This was extremely valuable for my future career in hospitality business because it helped me define what kind of business leader I want to be.”

Through their research and attendance at the conference, the team has been inspired to become business leaders who can create a culture where diversity is not only recognized but embraced. Having a deep understanding and awareness of how to work with guests and team members who share different backgrounds goes a long way.

Lasting connections

Along with their presentation, the students also participated in workshop programs such as MGM Resorts’ data analytics and data visualization in addition to attending other research presentations and networking sessions to connect with industry leaders as well as students from universities like Kansas State University, San Diego State University and Niagara University.

“I was able to meet and connect with a number of similarly passionate hospitality students, each with their own captivating research into specific questions of the hospitality industry,” Dahms shared. “Meaningful industry connections and the research to answer burning questions and solving industry problems are core components to a successful future in the hospitality industry.”

The students were also able to connect with fellow Spartans — a benefit of MSU’s alumni network, regardless of destination. While staying at Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas for the event, they met with Adam Miller (B.S. in Park, Recreation and Tourism Resources ’11), vice president of hotel operations at the iconic Roman-themed casino hotel. Miller sat down with the students to discuss his property, the company and the industry. He also gave them exclusive tours of the Caesar’s Villas, namely the Nobu Villa.

While the hospitality industry may be constantly evolving, Broad Spartans continue to serve as prime examples of what remains the same: the need to be bold and exceptional.

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