Hospitality Industry Advisory Board opens doors for students

Jennifer Miller
October 23, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Three years ago, the Penn State School of Hospitality Management (SHM) Industry Advisory Board was formed, allowing industry experts to strategically advise SHM on industry trends and guide students who are studying the field.

Since then, the 36-member board — which includes vice presidents and senior vice presidents with large companies and executive vice presidents, chief operating officers and CEO’s of smaller companies — has opened many doors for SHM students.

John O’Neill, director of SHM, said the board has helped the school in innumerable ways.

“They have raised the school's profile in the hospitality industry because they're all thought-leaders in the industry and now, they spend time talking with their colleagues about the great things that are going on here,” O’Neill said. “They've helped us to think of ways to enhance and expand our curriculum, including our executive education offerings. Also, new opportunities have been created for our students for both permanent jobs and internships.”

Kelsey Geist, a senior from Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, who is earning a degree in Hospitality Management, interned at Starwood’s corporate office in Stamford, Connecticut, from June to August, where she worked with Brian McGuire, SHM board member and vice president of North American operations.

“Working for Brian was great. He was very flexible with my internship. Anything that I expressed interest in, he would find a way to let me experience that for a day during my internship,” Geist said.

When the internship began, Geist said she was undecided about what she wanted to do after graduation. McGuire took that information and gave her a slew of opportunities to immerse herself in the hospitality industry, starting with sending her to New York City to work with the Six Sigma team, an internal group that focuses on operational innovation, at the W Hotel in Times Square.

“He realized that I was open to traveling and experiencing as much as I could during my internship. I traveled to New York City almost every week and got to work on a Six Sigma Kaizen event team, attend Mobile Check-In meetings, visit the Sheraton-New York and go on the New York City Starwood Hotel tour that was given to all corporate interns,” said Geist. “I got the opportunity to travel with the operations team at corporate to their food and beverage conference held in Phoenix, Arizona; I got to meet food and beverage managers from all over North America, hear from Starwood executives and famous speakers, and attend classes (on topics) such as, ‘how to move forward in your career.’”

Additionally, Geist spent two days shadowing each manager at the Sheraton for part of his or her day. She also had the opportunity to meet Penn State alumni working in the corporate offices and ask for career advice.

Geist was also able to contribute to the Mobile Check-In project, a new application that will allow guests to check into their hotel room using a mobile device.

“Because I worked for Walt Disney World and was a part of the roll out team for Disney’s new Magic Bands, I was able to contribute and give my input on what I believe would work well and what would not,” Geist said. Starwood will roll out the app in the near future.

“At the end of my internship, after all that I was exposed to and given the opportunity to experience, I figured out what I want to do after graduation and what I would potentially like to do in the future,” Geist said. “After graduation, I hope to work for Starwood in New York City as a housekeeping manager. I hope to eventually work my way into Six Sigma and I would love to go back to the corporate office.”

McGuire believes internship programs are mutually beneficial for the students as well as the companies who offer the opportunities.

“For the students, these programs help students test drive the companies and the types of work they could eventually assume upon graduation," he said. "I think it helps them identify what they are really passionate about, and evaluate what is important to them when it is time to select the companies they are pursuing during the interview process. Additionally, it helps students understand what they do not want to do once they enter the workforce.

“For the companies, we get to observe and challenge the interns in an actual work environment to help us better evaluate them for future, full-time employment. Based on their strengths and weaknesses we can also recommend career paths within our organization, which may not be on the students’ radar.”

Mengling Tang, a senior studying in Hospitality Management with a minor in Information Sciences and Technology, secured an internship through SHM Industry Advisory Board member Collin Urgo, senior vice president of operations at Urgo Hotels. Tang, originally from Changzhou, China, interned in the accounting office at the corporate headquarters of Urgo Hotels in Bethesda, Maryland, from July to August.

“I learned a lot about accounting — all of the financial statements, cash logs, bank reconciliations, 401K plan reports, payroll reports, and utility analyses,” Tang said. “I was able to apply my knowledge from hospitality accounting classes into real world experience; I like hotel accounting and this internship definitely benefited me a lot.”

Tang admits she was nervous to take on the internship with only two accounting courses completed. However, she said her supervisor, Jim Browne, was always happy to answer questions and ultimately Tang became confident with accounting work.

“I really enjoyed working for Urgo Hotels because it was pleasant every day I went to work. They treat their employees very well, and the work environment and morale was great. When I had difficulties, others always gave me encouragement and helped me out. Even after the internship, Collin and others are happy to give me career advice,” Tang said.

Tang said the advisory board provides an opportunity for students to network, learn more about different company cultures, share their experiences or opinions with faculty members and industry leaders, and understand employers’ thoughts. After attending an advisory board session, Tang said, “I got to talk to the industry leaders from Marriott and Starwood and get their business cards. I think they are amazing networks to have and to follow up with.”

Tang’s interaction with the board led to her internship with Urgo Hotels. She also had opportunities to talk with Urgo directly about his work in operations, and his unique ideas regarding the hospitality industry.

Board member Plato Ghinos, president of Shaner Hotels Group, said the board consists of dynamic and active members who are “committed to assist the school, faculty and students to stay as a leading institution in a global hospitality environment.”

Ghinos added, “All board members are leaders in their companies and are able to advise the school on industry trends and needs. At the same time, they offer their respective organizations to recruit for internships and career opportunities. Students and faculty are also involved in industry events and conventions. This offers a great opportunity for networking.”

McGuire said there are two main reasons he serves on the board.

“First, I feel an obligation to give back to Penn State. Penn State helped prepare me with a strong curriculum and a wide array of internship opportunities. Today, I continue to enjoy the benefits of alumni networking throughout hospitality and beyond,” McGuire said. “Secondly, interacting with the students helps keep me grounded and in touch with how future graduates see the industry and Starwood. This insight helps me work with our recruiting team and operations teams to ensure we are constantly evaluating ourselves, and addressing these expectations to make us more attractive with the tremendous talent produced by Penn State.”

Through the board, SHM is now the official academic sponsor for the newest and fastest growing hospitality industry conference, the annual Bisnow Lodging Investment Summit in Washington, D.C.

Last Updated October 27, 2014