Hospitality Management Program Prepares Students to Lead Industry’s Recovery

KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 2, 2020

Alana Agcaoili and Elise Majetich are two of the first students to major in Kennesaw State University’s new hospitality management degree program. While both were originally enrolled in other programs, the hospitality degree’s mix of management principles and data analytics – as well as the rapid growth of Georgia’s hospitality industry prior to the pandemic – inspired them to make a change.

Alana Agcaoili and Elise Majetich are two of the first majors in Kennesaw State University's Hospitality Management Degree Program

Housed within the Michael J. Coles College of Business’s Michael A. Leven School of Management, Entrepreneurship and Hospitality, the new Bachelor of Business Administration in Hospitality Management program began offering classes in Fall 2020. Its goal is to prepare students to be leaders in the lodging, tourism, entertainment, event management, and related sectors.

Agcaoili, a junior from Smyrna, was a civil engineering student who had changed her major twice before learning about the hospitality program.

“I’ve always had a STEM background,” she said. “But I always felt like I wanted to learn more about business and the managerial side of how organizations are run. I like to look at things from the big picture. When I saw that this new program was added, I was interested right away”

Agcaoili currently works as an office manager for a boutique hotel in Atlanta. Her experience with the hospitality program has convinced her to pursue a career in hotel management.

“There is just so much about the industry that I don’t know,” she said. “And when you’re working in it, it’s hard to learn those concepts beyond your specific role. It’s nice to have a way to learn about what other departments like housekeeping might be doing, or how food and beverage forecasts how much they’re going to sell next month.”

For Majetich, a junior from Chattanooga, the wide variety of career paths falling under the hospitality umbrella drew her to the program.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start my own business or do something else,” Majetich said. “In hospitality, there’s so many different things you can do. It’s one of the top industries in the state and it’s always going to be around – you know it’s secure.”

The program’s launch comes at a challenging time for the hospitality industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic canceling vacations, trade shows, and other events around the world. However, program director Leonard Jackson said students are developing the necessary management and analytics skills that will position them to lead the recovery.

“The majority of hospitality management degrees are ‘legacy’ programs that are still preparing students for the industry of the past,” said Jackson, who comes to Kennesaw State with 20+ years of professional and academic hospitality experience. “We have a rare opportunity in the Coles College of Business to take a proactive approach and prepare them for the hospitality industry of the 21st century and beyond.”

He said students learn to make strategic decisions based on key metrics such as service measurements, expenses and profitability, turnover, human resources data, guest satisfaction scores, and competitor performance. Graduates will thrive in a variety of hospitality careers ranging from front office manager and group sales manager to licensing and compliance specialist and development analyst.

To better prepare students for these careers, the College will partner with Atlanta businesses and key hospitality brands like the Georgia Aquarium, Intercontinental Hotel Group, and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) on internships and other real-world opportunities.

“We’ve envisioned this program from the start as a mix of rigorous academics and hands-on experience,” said Jackson. “Our aspiration is to become the preferred source of talent for industry employers in Georgia, the South Eastern United States and beyond.”

Trends point to a hospitality industry rebound following the pandemic. In 2019, hospitality grew 3.5 percent, compared to overall global economic growth of 2.5 percent, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Hospitality has outpaced global economic growth for nine years straight. The Coles College believes that the recovery will be led by strategic thinkers like those the hospitality management program will produce.

“Our graduates’ ability to make actionable decisions from robust business data will make them indispensable to hospitality businesses going forward,” said Coles College Dean Robin Cheramie. “These skills were already valuable prior to the pandemic. They are only going to become more important as the industry recovers.”

Kennesaw State’s hospitality management degree program was made possible by a $5 million contribution from Michael A. Leven, former chairman and CEO of the Georgia Aquarium and co-founder of AAHOA. In addition to hiring Jackson this summer to direct the program, the Coles College last year hired Melih Madanoglu, a prolific hospitality educator and researcher, to serve as Michael A. Leven Endowed Chair and Professor in Hospitality.

Also last year, the University partnered with AAHOA to launch the Michael Leven & Lee Dushoff AAHOA Scholarship for Compassionate Leadership, which will be awarded annually to students in the hospitality management program.

Although the program is young, Agcaoili and Majetich say they have already gained much from studying industry case studies and have begun developing their professional networks. And, while they recognize that the industry faces significant short-term challenges, they are confident a degree in hospitality management will prepare them for successful futures.

“We are in a position where we can watch how the industry currently reacts to these unprecedented times,” Agcaoili said. “These classes give us a platform to discuss these ideas and learn the solutions. That will give us head start when we start our careers.”

“The industry is always changing,” Majetich said. “We’re being taught to adapt our skills to that ever-changing environment. And as soon as this is [pandemic] is over, I’m sure people are going to travel more than ever.”

-Patrick Harbin

Photos by David Caselli

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