Alumni return to Hospitality Management classrooms to advise students

October 17, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Inside 117 Mateer Building on a Thursday morning, typically professor Michael Quinn would be lecturing his students enrolled in Advanced Hotel Management, but on this particular day, students received a different type of lesson from different kinds of instructors.

Tom Smith, who graduated from the School of Hospitality Management (SHM) in 1982 and is now area vice president and general manager for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, and Marcello Khattar, a 2004 SHM graduate who now directs brand management for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, talked to students about their real world experience and offered career advice.

“You’re really in charge of your own career. You should always make known what your interests are and what you want to do. Let your bosses know what your wishes are and what your goals are — and they can change, you don’t have to be locked into it. But make your wishes known, communicate those wishes, and don’t do it once,” Smith said.

Smith, Khattar and roughly 68 other SHM graduates returned this week to SHM classrooms for the ninth annual "Alumni in the Classroom" program. The massive alumni outreach program gives students an opportunity to learn first-hand about the careers they’re studying from professionals who once sat in their seats.

Alyson Miller, a senior who admits she is still figuring out her career goals, asked the alums how realistic it is for employees to have ambitions to move up the ranks of the hospitality industry or if it easy to get “stuck” in one position.

Khattar and Smith said moving to different roles can be easy if the employee is determined and pushes to earn the sought after position.

“It all depends on your career and your career management. Get out there and be frank when it comes to your evaluations. Take charge of your career,” Khattar said. “Sometimes things are not going to work out right away, but that doesn’t mean the path won’t lead you to where you want to be. A lot of times you have to trust things are going to work out in the future and not sweat the little things.”

Khattar acknowledged that his career path has taken many turns over the last 10 years – from Starwood to Four Seasons to Ritz Carlton and then back to Starwood – but with each step he said he was heading toward a specific career goal.

“I changed companies, which is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of it is communicating what you want, putting your time in, earning that respect and then it will come to you,” Khattar said.

Miller said the opportunity to interact with alumni who work in the hospitality industry ultimately gave her hope for her own career path.

“I’m very confused as to where I want to go right now, so I’ve been asking anyone I can questions to get insight about where I want to go. It’s comforting to know that even if I don’t start at the exact right position I can still get where I ultimately want to be going,” Miller said. “It’s letting me realize I have a chance to have my dream career.”

Senior Taimi Ando said he appreciated Khattar’s explanation about confidence when it comes to considering a new job. Khattar said if someone is extremely confident about all aspects of a job they’re pursuing then chances are they don’t want that job. A job, he said, should have challenges and create an opportunity to grow.

“It helped me to have more confidence,” Ando said. “He said it’s fine not to be 100 percent comfortable going into it. It’s fine to be unsure.”

Smith also warned students about the “burnout” factor, and urged students to keep personal interests outside of work, such as sports, clubs or other activities.

“Be involved in things that don’t have anything to do with your job because you need that balance,” Smith said.

The two-day program was held Oct. 15 and 16 with alumni serving as guest speakers during regular classes as well as roundtable discussions with students and faculty. Alumni covered a number of issues, including green initiatives in hotels, sales, marketing and revenue management, resume and interview skills, and trends in continuing care retirement communities.

“Our annual "Alumni in the Classroom" event is a unique experience for both our students and alumni,” said John O’Neill, director of SHM. “Our alumni teach all of our classes over a two-day period. The event brings many industry leaders to campus to interact with students, faculty and staff of the school through not only classes, but roundtables and receptions, as well. The positive energy created by the event helps our students, faculty and staff to feel really good about being part of this venerable school with over 75 years of tradition.”

Brian Black, director of SHM industry relations and event organizer, said, "There is such an infusion of energy and inspiration that comes from the 70 alumni guest speakers sharing their industry expertise with students and faculty in the classroom and roundtable discussions. The real-life experiences and advice often fuel discussions and support faculty lectures and learning objectives through the rest of the semester."

In conjunction with the Alumni in the Classroom event, the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society (PSHRS- APG) Alumni Awards Reception was held at the Nittany Lion Inn Oct. 15 where several SHM alumni received honors, including Smith who was named  Alumni of the Year.

“I had the good fortune of working with Tom Smith 30 years ago at Hyatt,” O’Neill said. “There were two things that everybody at Hyatt knew about Tom: that even at that time, he was rocketing towards a stupendous career with Hyatt, and that he was a Penn Stater. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to present our school's top alumni award to Tom, who's somebody who I've liked and respected for a very long time.”

Additionally, four undergraduate alum were honored as emerging professionals, including Jack Lindemuth ’04, area director of revenue at Kimpton Hotels & Resorts; Justine Schmider ’07, general manager at Pappas Restaurants; Ashley Akright ’09, manager of conference coordinators at Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center with Marriott International; and Catherine Kruegler ’09, general manager of Shake Shack with Union Square Hospitality Group.

Graduate alum Li Miao ’08, an associate professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University, was also recognized as an emerging professional.

Finally, senior Shane Mills received the Harvey P. Kamp Student Leadership Award, which honors outstanding leadership by a student who is pursuing a degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management at Penn State. Kamp'70 FSHA is an alumnus and served in the role of director of industry and alumni relations from 2001 to 2007. Kamp’s family presented the award to Mills. Alumni, faculty and friends of Kamp started the endowment in 2011. Kamp passed away in 2012.

Last Updated November 17, 2014