Hospitality management students visit retirement communities to enhance learning

Lisa Clapper
December 06, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn,” is one of Benjamin Franklin’s famous sayings, and learning through involvement is a major component of what Penn State students did this semester by interacting with people more than three times their age.

Students put into practice what they learned in the classroom of Associate Professor of Hospitality Management Albert (Bart) Bartlett’s Hospitality in Senior Living class (HM 306) by traveling to three different continuing care retirement community (CCRC) sites for off-campus learning opportunities.

In the first few weeks of class, students went to Foxdale Village and The Village at Penn State, both in State College. Later in the semester, students took an all-day trip to visit Westminster Woods in Huntingdon.

According to Bartlett, “The course focuses on how the application of hospitality management principles can bring multiple advantages for senior communities and residents and shows the opportunities and challenges involved in managing these facilities.”

For many students, these on-site experiences gave insights into a new area to explore as a career opportunity that may not have been at the top of their job search list.

Students listening to an administrator in a fitness center at a CCRC

Penn State hospitality management students listen to an administrator in a continuing care retirement community fitness center.

IMAGE: Penn State

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the food and beverage industry is expected to grow by 14% over the next decade, with salaries in senior living facilities being some of the highest in the field.

This is good news for students like Margo Elder, a senior majoring in hospitality management.

“It has taken me awhile to find my niche, but with this class I have,” said Elder, who is from Saxton.

Elder admits she came to the course somewhat by accident, looking to fill an open spot on her fall schedule with an elective, but is happy she did, as this one decision has changed her career path.

“This is the best class I have taken so far at Penn State,” said Elder, who noted that she has already started researching careers in food and beverage departments of senior living facilities. “You can talk and see as many pictures in lectures as you want, but there is a big difference between a lecture and real life,” she said of the interactions she’s had at the CCRCs as part of the class.

Engaged learning is not new to Penn State students, according to Donna Quadri-Felitti, associate professor and Marvin Ashner Director of Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management.

“The school has put engaged scholarship at the center of our curriculum since its founding in 1937,” Quadri-Felitti said. “However, active learning opportunities such as visiting and interacting with senior guests and managers directly at CCRCs provide students sharper insights into how a career in senior living may fit well into their professional plans.”

The experience has been just as beneficial to the CCRCs as it is has been to the students.

“We like to share our facility and the residents love the interaction with students. We have a strong affiliation with Penn State so the residents come here knowing they will have a connection to the University and the students,” said Duane Leitzell, director of dining services at The Village at Penn State and a 1998 alumnus who earned a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management. “It is a great intergenerational experience for both students and residents.”

Quentin Lee, a junior majoring in hospitality management from Lancaster, first heard about the class as a freshman. At the time, he was not thinking about a career in a CCRC.

“Without this class I probably would not have been on this path, thinking about a career in senior living,” he said. “It has really opened my eyes to the benefits and downsides of the business.”

For Lee, pairing the lectures with off-site experiences was very helpful.

“We see ourselves working at a facility and I think to myself, ‘I can fix this problem’ or ‘that’s a cool feature and I’d like to implement that someday,’“ Lee said. “You just can’t get that perspective unless you are immersed. It enhances learning.“

Both Elder and Lee attribute Bartlett’s passion for the senior living industry as the stimulus for the class.

“We see how much passion he has for the administrators and the residents and I say to myself, 'I want that passion,'” said Lee.

For more information on all of the College of Health and Human Development’s credit courses that include short-term travel, visit hhd.psu.edu/courses-short-term-travel.

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Last Updated December 06, 2019