Excitement is building at USF Sarasota-Manatee as the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership (CHTL) ramps up preparations for this year’s HospitaBull dinner and fundraising celebration, set for March 26, from 6 to 9 p.m., at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.
Now in its ninth year, the annual soirée raises funds for the CHTL to support both scholarships and faculty and student development. Behind the scenes, it represents much more, providing valuable real-world experience for students from the college’s restaurant management class.
As HospitaBull approaches, faculty and students are preparing to work alongside Ritz-Carlton staff in the kitchen and dining room. This hands-on approach demonstrates not only the college’s commitment to the yearly event – the CHTL’s chief fundraising vehicle – but its overall approach to education as well.
“This event shows the community how industry partnerships can enhance education and why those partnerships are so essential to our students and graduates,” said Dr. Joe Askren, who teaches the restaurant management class. “By assisting at events, engaging in shadowing experiences and interning at hotels, restaurants and other fine hospitality venues, our students become better equipped to step into rewarding hospitality management careers when they graduate.”
The pairing of academics with outside professional know-how isn’t new; the college has relied on the formula since 2003 when it was founded. Back then, the fledgling school sought leadership guidance and turned to industry veteran Dr. Jay Schrock, who had built successful hospitality programs at San Francisco State University and Texas Tech University.
As Schrock began assembling his team, he looked to an advisory board packed with expertise – including past presidents of the Florida Lodging Association and National Restaurant Association, the former dean of the Cornell Hotel School and the general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota – for added guidance and advice, a practice that continues with the current dean, Dr. Pat Moreo.
Dr. Moreo said those connections, along with the proximity of several highly respected hospitality companies, helped to establish USF Sarasota-Manatee as the CHTL’s home base, instead of another USF System campus. Today, the college continues to rely on industry partners for oversight and practical guidance. Those partners also play a proactive role in providing training for the college’s students.
In fact, before any of the CHTL’s 200 students can graduate, they must complete 700 hours of practical, on-the-job training as well as an additional 300-hour structured internship involving weekly journal reports, a final written report and a supervisor’s performance evaluation.
The impact of that training not only affects the practical side of their education, but it can yield results years later during their careers. Recent alum Audra Deehr is a case in point. A human resources generalist at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Deehr said the training she received as a USFSM student made all the difference when she began job hunting after graduation.
One of a half-dozen USFSM alums at the downtown luxury hotel, she said the internships and shadowing experiences she underwent as a student helped her to land her first job there. Starting in concierge services at the club level in 2016, Deehr was promoted a year ago to her current position in human resources. She now conducts new-hire orientations and ensures the hotel remains compliant in employee-training programs.
“I had interned at the Resort at Longboat Key Club in human resources and had taken a human resources-focused class. Both of those helped me to get that promotion and be where I am today,” she said.
Dr. Moreo says the role of practical knowledge in student development can’t be underestimated. It’s as important as the academic training they receive in the classroom.
In addition to the Ritz-Carlton and Resort at Longboat Key Club, among the companies that guide the CHTL and train students are: First Watch, Mainsail Suites Hotel & Conference Center (Tampa), the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, the Art Ovation Hotel, the Westin Hotel, and several other lodgings, restaurants and breweries across Southwest Florida and beyond.
Dr. Moreo says the college takes a three-fold approach to ensuring graduates are prepared for successful careers:
- First, students emerge from graduation fully capable of stepping into supervisory positions within hotels, restaurants, country clubs, city clubs, cruise ships and retirement facilities.
- Second, that these same graduates be equipped within a few years to enter into managerial positions such as department heads at large hotels, unit managers at restaurants or general managers at select-service hotels.
- And third, in the long run, that the education provided by USFSM prepares students to serve as owners and entrepreneurs across multiple industries. This may include corporate management roles, serving as area managers at restaurant and hotel chains, or as corporate division heads and general managers at large hotel operations.
“This program teaches hospitality management. We want our students to emerge as leaders. We want them to be critical thinkers in our program,” Dr. Moreo said. “And the internships they participate in play a vital role in their overall development.
“We want them to know how to take their experiences and observations from their internships and weave into the management principals they’ve learned in the classroom,” he said. “For that, we depend on the close cooperation of many industry partners. We couldn’t do this without them. But it’s also a reciprocal agreement. The students they support today become the hospitality leaders of tomorrow, and our industry partners understand that.”
For tickets or more information about HospitaBull, visit usfsm.edu/hospitabull.