Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 09 2014

Preparing Hospitality Students for Professional Life: Interview With Sue Tinnish

Jill Formeister
To ensure that Kendall College graduates are prepared for professional life, “we have a balance between hard and soft skills,” explained Sue Tinnish, PhD, Dean of the School of Hospitality Management. “The faculty and I work to see that students are prepared with specific hospitality knowledge combined with time management, project management, people management and leadership skills. We also include both theoretical and practical aspects within most classes. The result is that students know “what” to do and also the “why’s” behind the action.”

Sue and her faculty also must stay up-to-date. “The Kendall faculty members are all involved in the industry, which helps us stay current and relevant.  Industry involvement, reading the trade press, reading current business-oriented publications, networking with others – these are all ways that we bring the real world to our students. For example, Phil Mott coaches industry professionals on bar and restaurant management. Chris Letchinger recently spoke about restaurant failure (and the prevention) to US Foods.”

Sue described how the economy has impacted the job outlook for her students and for Kendall’s hospitality program: "Our industry, like others, responds to overall macroeconomic forces. The lackluster economic response following 2008 affected our industry.  Long-term, I am positive about the industry. Travel and tourism provides more that 258 million jobs worldwide, generating some 9.1% of global GDP (Source). The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently reported that hospitality has experienced the greatest increase in starting salaries for college graduates of any field in the U.S. (Source). Chicago’s focus on tourism remains strong.  On January 22 of this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised his goal for the number of tourists who visit Chicago annually, the same day the city announced it had record hotel occupancy in 2013.  Emanuel previously hoped for 50 million visitors a year by 2020; he has raised the goal to 55 million visitors annually by 2020.

Students must be realistic about the type of jobs they will be offered after college. The good news for Kendall is that we boast a 90+% placement rate within 6 months of graduation.”

She cites the maturing of the hospitality industry as creating more interest from students in Kendall College’s program and in the industry. “Academic research and work by various associations help further the merit of hospitality as a discipline,” she said. “A great example is Meeting and Business Event Competency Standards Efforts, which helped to establish meeting management as a discipline unto itself and can help drive curriculum development.  These efforts help expand the interest in hospitality programs.”  
Kendall’s School of Hospitality Management has also increased demand by introducing new concentrations (or majors). “This helps expose more students to the broad field of hospitality and can trigger an interest in studying hospitality when students find a niche that really intrigues them. Two quick examples at Kendall are our programs in Beverage Management and Sustainable Management in Hospitality and Tourism. By introducing these ‘new’ fields to students, we are further expanding demand and interest. We also have a new program in Sports Management. Although Kendall is not unique in offering Sports Management coursework, we are unique because we offer it in conjunction with Universidad Europea de Madrid.”
International students are now interested in studying hospitality at Kendall. “Our industry is global and the United States’ management skills and customer service aesthetic help drives demand from students wanting to study in the USA,” Sue noted.

Although she doesn’t see changes in student expectations or goals since she arrived at Kendall in 2008, she observed that “this is an ‘audience’ that is demanding of faculty and course information. It is very much akin to what we have seen in the meetings industry.  People expect to be engaged and even entertained at meetings and conferences. This happens every day in every classroom. Faculty must convey a certain level of knowledge and they must do it in a way (that engages). Frankly, it is not much different from what I have been ‘preaching’ since I entered the meetings industry in the late 1990s. The basis for empowering and engaging the audience is rooted in research about education.”

From 2008 to 2012, Sue taught management and meeting management classes as an assistant professor at Kendall’s School for Hospitality Management. Although she misses the consistent teaching experience, she loves her current role as Dean. “I enjoy the leadership opportunity which allows me to think strategically and work with various people on the implementation of tactics and plans to see that vision come to fruition. I enjoy interacting with students - connecting them with people in the industry, coaching them on finding the right internship or career opportunity, and the occasional guest appearance I make in the classroom.” Not surprisingly, time management is the most challenging aspect of her job.

Some Kendall students belong to various professional associations, including PCMA. Sue said that students don’t have a good understanding of associations and the many ways that associations affect the hospitality industry (providing jobs, offering mentoring opportunities, support life-long learning, etc.). “One thing I don’t think associations understand about students is that students are not clear on which association to belong to or support. It is tied to the student’s lack of understanding compounded by the fact that students may not be 100% committed to a certain career. I work hard to ensure that students value their professional memberships – like PCMA’s – and educate students on the great things an association like PCMA can do for their professional career.”

Sue appreciates PCMA member support. “The Student Membership Committee has participated in our Mocktail networking experience multiple times. In November when Kendall held an Hospitality Association Fair, PCMA was represented. With the new launch of our Club for Hospitality – Advancing Management Professionals (CHAMP), PCMA has a forum to recruit new members, support campus events, and encourage students to attend PCMA events. The factors typically holding students back from attending PCMA events are twofold:  cost and intimidation.  Most students, even the most confident, are nervous about walking into an industry event.”

To help students, she suggests that PCMA members “come to campus, develop relationship with students, and then support students attending your chapter events through reasonable costs and creating a welcoming environment.”
Students should “Go for it. You can’t be shy when it comes to networking. Getting involved in a committee in an association is the best way to meet people, gain skills, and acquire knowledge. The first outreach is the hardest; the industry is full of giving people who want to support students. Just find the first one and after that networking becomes so much easier.”