Eleven standout Penn State hospitality management alumni honored

November 11, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society (PSHRS) and Penn State School of Hospitality Management honored 11 alumni during the 2020 Alumni Awards Reception in conjunction with the school’s annual Alumni in the Classroom event on Oct. 7.

"Our alumni award recipients are great examples of the variety of career paths our students can pursue with a hospitality management degree. It’s an inspiring and educational experience to welcome them back along with more than 100 alumni, representing six decades that celebrated our honorees and participated in our annual Alumni in the Classroom program," said Brian Black, director of hospitality industry relations.

During the virtual ceremony, the following alumni were recognized:

Alumni of the Year

Tom Neely, class of 1987, general manager, Nittany Lion Inn

A 30+ year veteran of the hotel side of hospitality, Tom Neely has had a lifelong passion for the industry since his early days as a busser at the Copper Kettle Restaurant in the Hershey Lodge. He spent nearly 13 years with Interstate Hotels Corporation before venturing out to work with independent owners across different markets with many different brands.

Neely’s career has focused on the hotel industry, proving successful in rooms and food and beverage management areas while always encouraging his team to be entrepreneurial in finding the best path forward to achieve their own potential. Having held progressive junior and senior level positions at various locations encompassing all operating departments, he has been the general manager at the Country Inn & Suites, Annapolis, Maryland, and resort manager at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Virginia. Most recently he has been the general manager of the Nittany Lion Inn at Penn State, hosting global dignitaries and scholars as well as numerous high-end events for the University. 

Neely holds executive offices on the boards of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, the local Convention Bureau as well as PSHRS. Through these associations, he said he finds that level of engagement as added invigoration for the industry and a way to give back to the industry that has seen him through so many years.

Alumni Industry Achievement

Sarah Cannon-Foster, class of 1986, vice president, HR, Global Business Transformation, Walgreens Boots Alliance

Sarah Cannon-Foster is senior human resource executive with Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), the largest retail pharmacy in the U.S. and Europe with total revenues of $136 billion, a presence in 25 countries and more than 440,000 employees. As vice president of Human Resources and Global Business Transformation, Cannon-Foster oversees Smart-Organization efforts to analyze and prioritize $2 billion in worldwide operational costs savings by 2022. She supervises strategic collaboration and team execution among all functions, including healthcare, legal, communications, IT, government relations, public affairs and supply chain.

Since joining WBA in 2016 during its Rite Aid acquisition, Cannon-Foster has held multiple roles, including divisional vice president, chief human resource officer/HR leader of AllianceRx Walgreens Prime, and head of Walgreens University.

Prior to joining WBA, she built a successful hospitality career with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide between 1986 and 2016. Beginning in 2008, she served as regional director HR business partner – Western U.S. Region, where she organized the HR function for more than 16,000 associates in 57 hotels and 11 lifestyle brands, including St. Regis, Luxury Hotels, W, Westin and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts. Prior successive roles included unit and area HR responsibilities in Washington D.C., Bal Harbour, Chicago, Orlando and New York City.

Gregg Caren, class of 1984, president and CEO, Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau

Gregg Caren started his hospitality career with Marriott Hotels and Resorts and subsequently, Hilton and Sheraton properties. After developing two privately owned exhibition venues, he joined international venue management firm SMG (later re-branded as ASM Global) in 1998. With over 300 arenas, stadiums and convention centers, Caren was primarily responsible for business development, expanding the company’s portfolio of convention and exhibition venues throughout North America and internationally. He also led national sales efforts for more than 90 convention centers in the ASM Global network.

Caren served as liaison with international industry groups, including the International Association for Expositions and Events (IAEE), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO). 

Caren was named president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), the global tourism agency for the city, in June 2020. He brings his unique perspective of the convention and tradeshow industry to the PHLCVB, responsible for selling the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Philadelphia’s hotel package to meeting and event planners.

Gail Frazer, class of 1991, vice president, Global Sales, Corporate Accounts, Marriott International

Gail Frazer is responsible for leading Marriott’s Corporate Global Sales Organization of 130+ sales professionals. This team is responsible for representing Marriott’s 30 brands to the largest multi-national Corporate B2B customers representing over $15 billion in top line sales. She also is responsible for leading luxury sales segment specialists and ensuring the execution of Marriott’s luxury strategy for the corporate segment. With over 25 years of experience with Marriott and in the hospitality industry, Frazer has held numerous on-property sales and leaderships positions across multiple brands with her most recent experience being in the Global Sales Organization.

Frazer is a frequent speaker and panel participant at industry events including GBTA, PCMA, ACTE, WINIT (Women in Travel & Meetings) and the Pharmaceutical Forum. She is also an advisory board member for BTN (Business Travel News). Frazer is a graduate of Penn State where she earned her bachelor of science in hotel, restaurant and institutional management. She is active in the student alumni mentoring programs at Penn State and most recently completed a Global Leadership Program through GBTA and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Emerging Professionals — Graduates

Choongbeom "CB" Choi, class of 2015, assistant professor, Sejong University

CB Choi began his academic career as an assistant professor in the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In 2019, Choi joined Sejong University in South Korea as an assistant professor. He received the “Best Paper” award both at the 2013 Annual Graduate Student Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism and at the 2014 Annual ICHRIE Conference. In addition, he was recognized as the Emerging Global Hospitality Educator at the 2017 Annual Graduate Student Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism. Choi's research interests are in the areas of services marketing and consumer behavior, in particular behavioral pricing and servicescape. He is currently on the editorial board of Journal of Travel Research.

Emerging Professionals — Undergraduates

Abby Estevez, class of 2013, senior Luxury Travel Sales manager, Conrad New York Midtown

Abby Estevez started her career in the Management Development Program with Hilton at the iconic Waldorf Astoria New York. After rotating through all departments, working all hours and shifts, she was promoted as Luxury Sales manager for the Towers of the Waldorf Astoria New York, the first of her title. Following the closure of the Waldorf Astoria, she went on to renovate and re-brand the future James New York No-Mad and then re-joined Hilton as part of the opening team of what has now become Conrad New York Midtown as their senior Luxury Travel Sales manager. In between her extensive travel schedule and working with Luxury Travel advisers, she said she continues to feed her passions of fitness, wine education, cooking and, of course, Penn State. Estevez has served as an executive board member for almost five years and serves as a mentor to current students and recent graduates.

Justin George, class of 2010, director of operations, Peak Beverage

In his current role at Peak Beverage (Colorado’s largest cocktail catering company) Justin George oversaw opening an experiential liquor store and educational facility and has been vital in driving growth and success during a time when the Events Industry as a whole has come to a screeching halt. He began his career with Marriott and worked in all aspects of operations at properties including the New York Marriott Marquis, JW Marriott Washington DC, and W Chicago City Center. He moved to the Sydell Group to open the Freehand Chicago as director of food & beverage, opening the second location of the Broken Shaker, considered one of the world’s best bars. George stepped into the retail industry for the high-growth company Mariano’s Fresh Market before continuing West to Denver to the historic Brown Palace Hotel. After reconnecting with a colleague he met as students at an AH&LA Conference, he joined Peak Beverage and despite circumstances was able to use his experience to build a new, highly successful business division. George is a co-network leader for PSHRS in Denver, Colorado.

Felicia Kelly, class of 2015, F&B manager, Operational Support Services, Marriott International

Felicia Kelly has served Marriott International in various capacities and across both luxury and premium full service brands over the past five years. Kelly is currently a food and beverage manager with the Operation Support Resources team based out of Marriott International corporate office. OSR provides comprehensive, short-term discipline coverage across all Marriott brands in the U.S. and Canada. OSR’s management support enables hotels to strengthen their operations effectively while continuing to put their guests first.

Kelly primarily supports the Atlanta market in not only Food and Beverage operations but Banquets and Housekeeping as well. Outside of her regular job role, Kelly actively supports Marriott’s LGBTQ associate resource group and holds the title of president of Marriott’s Atlanta Restaurant and Event Council. Kelly is a PSHRS Atlanta network leader and volunteer for the Atlanta Humane Society and Big Brother Big Sister of Atlanta.

Yaheng Li, class of 2016, Product Design and Brand Standard director, Radisson RED, China (Jinjiang International)

Yaheng Li was born in the Northeast of China and is an entrepreneurial alumna who started up Elite League of Hospitality in Asia, a non-profit organization in State College, Pennsylvania, in 2013, when she was a Penn State hospitality management student. While a student, Li worked as an F&B Management intern at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center and worked at the University Park campus Starbucks and Burger King. She started her hospitality career with Hampton by Hilton in Austin, Texas, as a management trainee, then worked in Hyatt Corporate in Chicago in the Project and Brand Design Departments as the first Chinese employee. She started up her hospitality company, Livo Hotel Management Company, when she went back to China and later joined the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai in the F&B Division. Currently Li is the director of Product Design and Brand Standards for Radisson RED China of JinJiang International and studying for her MBA degree at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne.

Samantha Moore, class of 2012, senior director of Meetings and Education, American Bakers Association

In addition to her role at American Bakers Association (ABA) Samantha Moore is also an Assistant Secretary and Housing & Corporate Meeting Manager for the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE). She interned with ABA in college and joined full-time as the Meetings & Membership Coordinator until 2014. Moore then joined Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America as the manager of Meetings and Exhibits. She was then approached by ABA to return as the senior director of Meetings & Education and the chief of staff person for IBIE. Moore oversees more than 20 events ranging from 10 to 22,000 attendees and almost 1000 exhibitors. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and is currently working towards the Certification in Exhibition Management. Moore has been a member of PCMA since 2009, serving as president of the Penn State student chapter while a student and the DC Chapter 2017 chair of the Professional Development Committee.

Juliana Titon, class of 2014, chief operating officer and owner, Spedini Trattoria and It’s Grill, Brazil

Juliana Titon left Brazil at 18 years of age to pursue her degree at Penn State, where she began her studies at the Penn State Behrend campus. After graduation in 2014 she began her career as a F1 Trainee with Marriott in California for one year before going back to her hometown Curitiba in southern Brazil. The return home began the succession process at Spedini and It’s Grill, two restaurant chains that were seeing the owners’ inch closer to retirement. Over the last few years she completed a specialization in Quality Management with a Six Sigma Black Belt which was vital to the restructuring of the organization she is now responsible for. In order to have in-depth insights of the company, she started on the line and worked her way up while interacting with all employees and franchisees, earning their trust by working side-by-side with them. In hopes of building a place and tools that help businesses learn from the hospitality industry, Titon's company also ventures into financial and process improvement consulting projects for other businesses in Curitiba.

About the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society

The Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society (PSHRS) was founded to strengthen all hospitality professions and enhance the reputation of the Hospitality Management program (HM). PSHRS is an Affiliate Program Group of the Penn State Alumni Association and the College of Health and Human Development Alumni Society.

PSHRS provides a means for achieving closer fellowship among alumni, faculty and students. PSHRS serves those who are currently attending Penn State in HM or who are graduates of the program, as well as those who work within the HM industries and have attended Penn State or are "friends" of the program.

About the School of Hospitality Management

Established in 1937, Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected schools of hospitality management. Its top-ranked undergraduate and doctoral programs prepare global leaders with a rigorous, diverse curriculum focused, since its inception, on engaged scholarship, featuring partnerships with Penn State's Hospitality Services, Housing and Food Services, and top global hospitality brands. It’s also home to the oldest Penn State alumni program group, the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society.

For more information about the school, contact Brian Black, director of hospitality industry relations, at bab180@psu.edu or 814-865-1853.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 11, 2020