Supporting Hospitality’s Next Generation
For the second year, several Kent Students will be awarded scholarships from The Olympia Companies – the organization that manages the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center.
The Hospitality Programs at Kent State
The scholarships support students in Kent State’s Hospitality and Event Management program, which is part of the College of Education, Health and Human Services' School of Foundations, Leadership and Administration. There are currently about 100 students in the program. Kiwon Lee, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and the program coordinator for the undergraduate Hospitality and Event Management program as well as the graduate Hospitality and Tourism Management program.
She said, “There is a strong demand in the industry for quality employees, so our program expects growing interest from prospective students.” Lee shared that the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the U.S. economy will add 8.3 million jobs from 2021 to 203. Of those jobs, 1.9 million jobs – 23.1 of all new jobs projected – are expected to be in leisure and hospitality.
Some of the star features of Kent State’s program are the university hotel and the Innovation Teaching Kitchen, located in the Design Innovation Hub. The kitchen is a state-of-the-art teaching space for culinary classes with live-stream capabilities to share demonstrations to lecture halls. The hotel is an integral part of the program’s experiential learning, offering on-site tours, classes taught by key hotel staff, guest speakers and internship opportunities.
Creating Opportunities for Students
In January 2021, the Olympia Companies became the management company for the university hotel. The company works to maintain guest satisfaction, employee satisfaction and financial profitability for the 10 independent hotels they manage. Kevin Walker is the director of operations for all of those hotels, including the university hotel. He studied hotel restaurant management at Penn State and said he enjoys the unique opportunities that come with working with a hotel that’s owned by a college, with the scholarship being one of those opportunities.
“To be able to work with a program like the one that’s available at Kent State is really professionally rewarding,” he said. “Because we're able to not only support young professionals or professionals that are getting into hospitality, but also are able to potentially recruit for our own organization in the future. If we’re able to have relationships with these individuals and pay a small portion of their tuition, maybe they would be interested in coming to work for us.”
The scholarship is available for juniors and seniors in Kent State’s hospitality program, but Walker said that graduate students have also been considered as recipients. The funding comes from 5% of the Olympia Companies’ management fees from the hotel. So, the available dollar amount of the scholarships is tied to the performance of the hotel. If the hotel performs well in a given year, the scholarship grows. In 2022, four students received this scholarship. It is projected that two or three students will be receiving funds from this scholarship in 2023.
David Schoeffler is the general manager of the Kent State University Hotel & Conference Center, and has been with the hotel since 2021. He shared his thoughts on the scholarship.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea, and it really solidifies the partnership between Olympia, this hotel and Kent State University,” he said. “What they are doing is remarkable and it really ‘puts their money where their mouth is’ in regard to the partnership. In fact, I was told just days ago that one of our front office agents, who is a senior hospitality student, won one of the scholarships for this year.”
Mary Kline, director of sales and catering for the hotel, said that each year the scholarship students are invited to a special lunch with representatives from the hotel and the Olympia Companies and are awarded their scholarships.
An Invaluable Learning Experience
Walker sees the value to hospitality students in having a college-owned hotel. “You really don’t fully understand what being a hospitality manager is until you actually are one or stand along others and see what they go through on a daily basis, both positive and negative,” he said. “So, the education is important because it will provide a framework of how everything works together, and sort out the specialty areas of finance, accounting sales and marketing.”
“But until you’re actually in the space working, you don’t have a full understanding or appreciate it.”
A Shared Passion
The teams at both the hotel and the Olympia Companies are always looking at new ways to help Kent State students grow. “We love to bring in folks who are passionate about the industry,” said Walker. “I think the team at Kent is uniquely positioned to be great mentors and teachers of hospitality. They have decades of experience and it’s something they like to do. You have to share that information and so we absolutely see that happening. And, it is happening.”
“We always like to share when you come upon someone that has the same passion as you.”