In its 94-year history, the School of Hospitality Business has always embraced the value of mentorship. With a strong network of alumni eager to give back, Broad faculty connect alumni and students to share their knowledge and guidance and to promote lifelong learning and success.

Bonnie Knutson Photo

Bonnie Knutson, professor of hospitality business

“The word family is often overused when describing a group or a community. In the case of our hospitality school, this descriptor is really appropriate, if for no other reason than the nature of hospitality itself,” Bonnie Knutson, professor of hospitality business, said.

“While there is a myriad of definitions of the term, they can probably be summed up by the mantra of a former director, Don Smith, who always said hospitality is best defined as ‘The answer is yes; what is the question?’”

For Billy Downs (B.A. Hotel & Restaurant Management ’88), Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski (M.S. Foodservice Management ’05), Sarah Michelson (B.A. Hospitality Business ’20), Eloy Trevino (B.A. Marketing ’97, MBA ’01) and Alison Wallace (B.A. Hospitality Business ’97), their answer is always yes, term after term.

They each welcome the opportunity to support students with their time, talents and expertise to help provide a unique and meaningful learning experience. This fall, they each worked alongside Knutson to advise students in her hospitality business strategy course, which was held virtually.

Extraordinary impact during the pandemic

Kwiatkowski, senior executive chef for Culinary Services at MSU, and Downs, president of Downs Management & Consulting and owner of Ford’s Garage, brought their food and beverage expertise to the table, helping students think of food trends and alternative preparation and delivery methods.

Trevino, vice president at McKinsey & Company, not only provided expertise on brand strategy but also met with student teams individually throughout their capstone project to help keep them on track.

Wallace, director of sales for Hilton in Chicago, helped guide a complex term project that challenged students with developing an innovative strategy for one of the three legacy Hilton hotels in the Windy City: Drake Hotel, Palmer House Hilton and Hilton Chicago.

Wallace shared how she has continued to be involved with MSU as much as possible since she graduated, often by partnering on projects and hosting interns in the summer.

“We are always very impressed by the quality of the students at Michigan State and have really enjoyed getting to know the students through various initiatives,” she said.

As a recent alumna, Michelson worked with Knutson as a Broad Scholar/student researcher and classroom assistant. She shared her new experiences as a catering and conference services coordinator at Montage Healdsburg, an ultra-luxury resort, and assisted during the course’s online learning transition.

“The School of Hospitality Business has an impressive alumni network and I had the privilege of being mentored by many outstanding alumni as a student, so this was a clear opportunity for me to give back, especially to a professor who gave so much of her time and energy to help my personal growth,” she said.

Michelson said she valued bringing in her perspective as a recent alumna to discuss the transition from college to professional life.

The cycle of mentorship

Mentorship is of course valuable to students, but the mentors themselves can also gain new insights from the experiences and interactions with students as well.

“We always learn new best practices from the students and implement some of their recommendations,” Wallace said. “Michigan State hospitality students are best in class, and we look forward to continuing to partner together.”

Kwiatkowski added, “I have made some great connections and seen so many students move on to great things in the hospitality industry. Staying as current as possible with trends and what is going on in the hospitality industry is so important in my role here at Michigan State University.”

In Knutson’s eyes, the program at Broad breeds future mentors. While studying at MSU, students learn from mentors and alumni and, in turn, are inspired to become mentors themselves.

“Every one of these incredible alumni sat in my course during their hospitality education and represent more than one generation of students,” she said.

“Had they not had the challenging, meaningful, exciting, opportunistic educational experience during their four years (classes, internships, work experiences, mentorships, club and student-run events), that bond to give back would not have been forged. But they did, and it was,” Knutson explained. “This is true for the thousands of graduates who are proud to be alumni of a top Hospitality Business program.”

Being a lifelong learner is an important role for every individual, no matter the career or industry, no matter if you’re a student or an alumnus. These Broad Spartans are among the many who give their time to mentor and give back, and they remind us that we all have the incredible opportunity to continuously learn from one another in new ways.