Resort experience conference gives HHD students hospitality tools

Marjorie S. Miller
September 18, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Marcus O’Leary, vice president of resort experience at Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp., thinks Penn State students “just get it.”

The business, that is.

For one week, students in recreation, park and tourism management (RPTM) and hospitality management (HM) in the College of Health and Human Development attended a U of the Way conference on Penn State’s University Park campus, hosted by Marriott Vacations Worldwide (MVW) and held in collaboration with Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

The vision? To recruit Penn State students into Marriott Vacations Worldwide, a Florida-based company that is a recognized leader in timesharing and through its Marriott Vacations Club (MVC) brand, has 54 properties around the world. This gives students the knowledge, experience and tools to succeed in their respective careers.

“MVW is different from Marriott International in many ways,” said Patricia Kleban, senior instructor of RPTM. “It is a separate, publicly traded timeshare company where 'owners' have paid in advance for an amazing vacation and experience that they can now enjoy every year. Property offerings have gone way beyond ‘kids clubs’ and (now) include special events, wine and beer tastings, etc.”

The 2014 Resort Experience Conference was divided into two focuses: food and beverage leaders and recreation leaders. Throughout the week and through different activities, demonstrations and programming, students delved into the hospitality, recreation and experiential education aspects of the industry to help prepare them for, and potentially land them, jobs. The slogan, “It’s not what we do … it’s the way we do it” aimed to highlight the importance of hosting a quality experience. The event was held Sept. 8 through 12. 

Activities, topics and programs, among countless others, included hiking Mount Nittany; a wine and cheese welcome; dinner at Happy Valley Brewery; learning to “Engage with your guests” through team building; MVC clubTHRIVE fitness classes; A bird of prey program at Shaver’s Creek to emphasize “a sense of place”; learning about the healthy use of technology in the natural world; art trends with local artists; Point of Sale demo and marketplace design; social media; and outdoor initiatives such as campsite selection and shelter building, which are part of the MVC new Outdoor Adventure Club option.

“Marriott Vacations Woldwide's goal is (to create) a pipeline to our students,” Kleban said. “Their executive management team is finding that activities and food/beverage team members are the best to begin promoting through their systems as our graduates understand the experience part of vacations.”

The company brought property activity directors and food and beverage directors from their Marriott Vacation Club resorts to Happy Valley, along with its executive, public relations and human resources teams. RPTM student Jennifer McKee and HM student Jillian Kleban, Marriott Vacations Worldwide's corporate interns, were the primary planners.

"The participants from Marriott Vacations are mixing it up with classroom learning, experiential learning, corporate training and social events,” Kleban said. “Students in RPTM and HM have been selected to participate and Marriott Vacations Worldwide recruiters have interviewed students and alums on site for pre-internships, internships and permanent jobs. We had over 100 students come to (the) meet and greet (at the beginning of the conference).”

Peter Bordi, associate professor and director for the Center for Food Innovation in the School of Hospitality Management (SHM) developed a cooking oil study with the MVC food/beverage team. Through the testing in the research kitchen and corresponding testing in the sensory lab, the company was able to provide optimal cooking procedures to prepare the highest quality food, which enhances the resort experience with its owners and guests.

An event that has previously been held in larger locations, including Orlando, Florida, U of the Way was created specifically for the Penn State location.

“Not only did it provide a new and unique experience for their managers, but it also allowed for more students to participate and experience the company culture

-- Brian Black, director of hospitality industry relations

“It’s great they decided to bring it here,” said Brian Black, director of hospitality industry relations at the SHM. “Not only did it provide a new and unique experience for their managers, but it also allowed for more students to participate and experience the company culture through engaging interactions with more than 80 managers. The recruiting process starts by building relationships with the managers they could be working with in the future.”

About 20 students from HM and 20 to 25 students from RPTM were chosen to attend the conference. Students were recruited through faculty recommendations; students who do well in the classroom and take on leadership roles were highlighted.

Cliff Delorey, executive vice president and chief resort experience officer for MVW noted, "One of the reasons MVW chose Penn State as a conference site is because of its exceptional programming."

"There's such a great recreation program, coupled with a great hospitality program," he said. "I've just seen the energy out of these students."

Delorey described the students’ passion and drive as key characteristics for the industry.

“The energy, the spirit,” he said. “They get it.”

"It’s also their pride; they've taken the time to (seek out) what our company is about. They know what they want and how to leverage our resources," Delorey added.

“It just seems they’re ready to go into the real world from here,” Delorey said.

He added: holding a conference on a campus, where Marriott Vacations Worldwide can show students who they are and how they function, and in turn help students with relationship recruiting, is far more powerful and meaningful than a sit-down job consultation.

“That for me is better than an interview,” Delorey noted. “Everyone wins.”

Kleban said the interaction between MVW members and students has been positive.

“It’s been great to watch,” she said.

Students were excited to be included in the conference, she said, and to be offered the opportunity for their lives to potentially change.

“On that first night the Marriott Vacations Worldwide team (was) very welcoming,” Kleban said. “I saw the student confidence (come out) and the nervousness go away.”

Laurie McLaughlin, instructor at Shaver’s Creek, said the Shaver’s Creek component of the conference highlighted how to continue to engage guests and share what’s unique and special about their space.

“Our piece was to provide programming that would enhance the theme of ‘It’s not what you do, it’s the way you do it’.”

The environmental center provided a variety of team-building activities that focused on how to use programs in resorts and how to involve guests in programming, specifically at their place.

Shaver’s Creek works with RPTM students throughout their course work to make sure they have had a variety of opportunities to develop their interpretive and leadership skills, McLaughlin said, which are skills that add value to the types of programs that Marriott Vacations Club is trying to add to their portfolio of recreation offerings. 

McLaughlin said being a part of U of the Way was rewarding.

“It’s huge,” she said. (“We were) excited from the beginning.”

The conference helped enhanced collaborations within Penn State, McLaughlin explained. Shaver’s Creek is a longtime partner of RPTM, she said, so it was great to be able to fuel a partnership with HM as well.

“We were able to show the students how programs could collaborate and work together,” she said. “That’s really key.”

“It’s been a really great process,” McLaughlin added. “For me (it was) a great week of interacting with different people (and) learning about Marriott Vacations Worldwide and what they’re looking for in future staff.”

For more information about Marriott Vacations Worldwide visit www.marriottvacationsworldwide.com. For more information about RPTM visit www.hhd.psu.edu/rptm. For more information about HM visit www.hhd.psu.edu/shm. For more information about Shaver’s Creek visit shaverscreek.org.

  • U 2

    About 20 students from HM and 20 to 25 students from RPTM were chosen to attend the "U of the Way" conference. Students were recruited through faculty recommendations; students who do well in the classroom and take on leadership roles were highlighted.

    IMAGE: Justin Raymond
  • U 3 Shaver's Creek

    The vision with the "U of the Way" conference was recruit Penn State students into Marriot Vacations Worldwide, a Florida-based company that is a recognized leader in timesharing and through its Marriott Vacation Club brand, has 54 properties around the world. This gives students the knowledge, experience and tools to succeed in their respective careers.

    IMAGE: Justin Raymond
  • U 4

    Activities, topics and programs, included hiking Mount Nittany; a wine and cheese welcome; dinner at Happy Valley Brewery; learning to “Engage with your guests” through team building; MVC clubTHRIVE fitness classes; A bird of prey program at Shaver’s Creek to emphasize “a sense of place”; learning about the healthy use of technology in the natural world; art trends with local artists; Point of Sale demo and marketplace design; social media; and outdoor initiatives such as campsite selection and shelter building, which are part of the MVC new Outdoor Adventure Club option.

    IMAGE: Justin Raymond
  • U mtg 5

    The 2014 Resort Experience Conference was divided into two focuses: food & beverage leaders and recreation leaders. Throughout the week and through different activities, demonstrations and programming, students delved into the hospitality, recreation and experiential education aspects of the industry to help prepare them for, and potentially land them, jobs. The slogan, “It’s not what we do … it’s the way we do it” aimed to highlight the importance of hosting a quality experience.

    IMAGE: Justin Raymond
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Last Updated September 30, 2014