Nearly every industry has faced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the hospitality industry stands out. As travel has been restricted, only essential businesses have been open and casinos, hotels, clubs and restaurants were shutting down, many hospitality students started to lose hope for their summer internship opportunities.

However, faculty and staff in The School of Hospitality Business have dedicated time and effort to give Broad hospitality students a new confidence in the future of their industry. Authella Collins Hawks, director of the Student and Industry Resource Center, and Jeff Yingling, assistant director for undergraduate academic programs, have spearheaded this effort with increased advising, modified internship requirements and amplified engagement with industry leaders and alumni.

“My main goal has been to make academic advising easy for students to access,” Yingling said. He credited the School’s diligent communications as a main factor in student engagement. “During a normal semester, students usually need to schedule an academic advising appointment one to two weeks in advance. I have been able to provide same-day service for most students using a combination of email advising and phone advising.”

New professional development opportunities

Under regular circumstances, hospitality students are required to complete two internships in addition to their coursework. For summer 2020, these requirements have been modified to include virtual and micro internships with hospitality companies, work experience in related service industries and more than 10 internship research projects developed by hospitality business faculty.

An exciting new opportunity being offered for internship credit is a project from Restaurant Finance Monitor called “The Restaurant of the Future.” Students interested in participating in this research-based project are called to be “dreamers and visionaries” and to have a focus in operations, real estate, marketing and concept design. Students will work in teams to compete against other universities across the country, with the winning team going on to compete at the Restaurant and Finance Development Conference in November, held in Las Vegas or virtually, if travel is still restricted.

Beyond these experiences, SIRC has also tasked students with conducting informational interviews with an executive or manager in the hospitality industry. “Even if offers are rescinded, we still want students to learn about the industry and the different roles they can pursue,” Collins Hawks said.

Engaging with alumni

Collins Hawks has also led the development of the SIRC Summer Series, which offers professional development programs conducted by hospitality alumni who are executives in industry. Via Zoom, they will share in-depth information on specific industry segments. “The hospitality industry has many different areas students can pursue, and the goal of this series is for students to gain a greater understanding of each individual segment,” Collins Hawks explained.

The first event of this series, held on May 20, focused on luxury hotels and featured hospitality business alumni Jennifer Lodge, senior vice president for Forbes Travel Guide, and Aaron Ide, resort manager for Four Seasons resort The Biltmore in Santa Barbara, California. The speakers covered everything that goes into managing a luxury hotel and how to attain and maintain a five-star rating.

The next event in the SIRC Summer Series is to be held on June 10, covering the topic of casinos and marketing. The event will feature hospitality business alumnus Bruce Bommarito, recent corporate vice president for international marketing at Caesars Entertainment Corporation in Las Vegas. Bommarito has led Caesars’ efforts for developing new strategies with foreign markets, notably with China.

“Each day, we want students to think about if a recruiter asks, ‘What did you do during the summer of COVID-19?’ they will be able to share all the professional development activities and continued learning opportunities The School has provided,” Collins Hawks said.

A lasting impact

Sarah Michelson, a recent hospitality business graduate and student employee at SIRC, commented on ongoing efforts to ensure student success. “I have been extremely impressed by our students’ patience, adaptability and determination for continued growth, even in the face of extreme adversity,” she said. “Being able to continue working for SIRC [this summer] and serving fellow students has given me purpose in this crisis.”

James Miller, a hospitality business junior and SIRC student employee, also commented on what it means to be able to serve his fellow students. “Personally, giving students some sort of comfort during a time of uncertainty means a lot to me,” he said. “Being able to know you are helping students in not only their professional but also personal lives is really a fantastic thing. Not only are we there to help them get where they want to go, but we are able to see them accomplish their goals, and that is the best part.”

Collins Hawks explained, “We feed and house the world, and that crashed and burned almost overnight. Four months later the hospitality industry is re-envisioning itself to make a strong return, leading the way with new safe procedures while remaining connected with people.

“Service, food, rest, gathering spaces for celebrations and sorrow is the essence of hospitality,” she continued. “The School of Hospitality Business in the Broad College has trained students for over 92 years and will continue to do so in new and creative ways, even faced with a pandemic.”