By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing
The University of South Florida Muma College of Business is experiencing significant growth in its School of Hospitality and Tourism Management since expanding programming from the Sarasota-Manatee campus to the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses last fall.
“The number of students who are taking hospitality courses is increasing 200-300% every single semester since we expanded the major only two semesters ago,” said Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and McKibbon endowed chair.
The expansion stems from new partnerships with McKibbon Hospitality, Aramark and Mainsail Lodging and Development, a specialist in the tourism lodging sector. Between the three corporations, hospitality students have the opportunity to shadow and intern at three- to five-star hotels and at USF’s on-campus dining locations. The program also provides employment to 130 graduate students through the Hospitality Industry Internship program.
Turning hotels and restaurants and their associated corporate offices into learning labs gives students first-hand experience in day-to-day operations, sales and marketing, reservations, revenue management and corporate housing. “This program is about inspiring the next generation,” said Randy Hassen, CEO of McKibbon Hospitality, which manages more than 100 of the world’s largest hotel brands, such as Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. “As they’re going to school and learning about hospitality, we want to provide them the hands-on experience that it takes to be a successful hospitality leader.”
Rachael Pisano enrolled in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management to begin a new career path. She was accepted into the internship program and is currently working for McKibbon Hospitality at Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Tampa. “This is my first time ever working in a hotel and, so far, the hands-on experience has been wonderful,” said Pisano, who has worked at the hotel’s front desk, lounge bar and bistro. “I’ve learned so much and have made so many connections. It’s been amazing having the opportunity to be able to network myself.”
Usman Khan came to USF from Pakistan after being accepted as a Hospitality Industry Intern. Khan is already well-educated in hospitality education, training and development, and even helped to establish tourism and hospitality departments at four universities in Pakistan. But, he wanted to continue his studies in the U.S. because of the strong connections between academia and the industry.
“I’m really thankful for this program,” Khan said. “I have hospitality administration experience, but not operations, so here, I’m acquiring that operations experience and I hope that will be helpful for me in my future.” He is currently working on quality assessment at the Chick-fil-A location in the Marshall Student Center, making sure the temperatures of the food and machines are safe and that the restaurant is clean and hygienic.
Aramark has been the university’s food service partner since 2002, providing dining services and employing 800 students of all majors. Through its support of the internship program, hospitality students can now get more out of their academic studies through hands-on experience and on-the-job management training.
“At USF, we’re about student success, and student employment has always been a cornerstone for us. It has been critical for USF Bulls serving USF Bulls,” said David DiSalvo, district manager for USF Dining Services. “Now we’ve welcomed several interns into our organization to provide frontline support, but also work with our team and senior leadership to develop new ideas and improve the USF Dining experience. It’s a win-win because the students get to develop real life application of the things they’re learning in the classroom, and we’re provided with tremendous talent and ideas. I have a lot of optimism for where the program is headed because it has already exceeded our expectations.”
Despite diminishing fears of COVID-19, staffing shortages and inflation continue to increase in the hospitality industry. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s 2023 State of the Hotel Industry Report, staffing is expected to remain a significant challenge for U.S. hotels, which are projected to employ 2.09 million people in 2023, down from 2.35 million in 2019. Focusing on workforce development and preparing a strong talent pipeline is key to repairing the industry and sustaining its growth.
“The industry is going to change, and it’s either you’re going to move with the change or get left behind, and the opportunity that was presented with the internship program was one that I saw that I couldn’t miss out on,” said Kristoff Ellis, a hospitality industry intern. “The master’s program has definitely helped me to grow more in terms of the hospitality industry, learning more about it and what the future holds for us, and how we as leaders can change the future.”