Marriott Shows Hospitality to DePaul Students

Marriott Scholars Elanna Smith and Sofija Veta participate in a teamwork exercise with Marriott Sous Chef Craig Moisand, as Visiting Associate Professor Nicholas Thomas watches.

Marriott Scholars Elanna Smith and Sofija Veta participate in a teamwork exercise with Marriott Sous Chef Craig Moisand, as Visiting Associate Professor Nicholas Thomas watches.

This year, the School of Hospitality Leadership is expanding its undergraduate professional development opportunities with a unique partnership. A $200,000 gift from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation led to the launch of the Marriott Hospitality Scholars Program, which provides 10 freshmen and 10 juniors each a $10,000 J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Hospitality Scholarship, paid over a two-year period.

The scholars program benefits students in different ways. For freshmen, the program’s activities are designed to spark an interest in choosing a hospitality major or minor. For juniors, the scholarship provides support for students completing a hospitality degree. In addition, each underclassman is paired with an older student in a mentee-mentor relationship. “The juniors are sitting on a wealth of information that the freshmen can tap into to help them progress through their academic careers at DePaul,” says Visiting Associate Professor Nicholas Thomas.

Nothing similar existed at DePaul, so Thomas and instructor Brian Barker created a format that mirrors a management-training program. Students complete workshops based on key areas of hospitality, such as effective communication, managing conflict, culture and diversity, before touring local Chicago Marriott properties and seeing how hotel leaders are applying the concepts.

The program “is designed to give an opportunity to get an education and to transition into hospitality to people who might not have been afforded that opportunity before,” Thomas explains. When weighing student applications, the selection committee considered whether potential scholars had faced hardship and whether they were first-generation college students.

Elanna Smith, a junior majoring in communication studies and minoring in hospitality leadership, enjoys being a Marriott Scholar for the added benefits the scholarship provides.

“Besides financial support, I was fully equipped with the proper materials for a professional career. Plus, I have 19 other scholars who share the same interests,” says Smith, who secured a summer internship through the program to work for a Marriott brand. She says her interest in hospitality grew from watching her mother run a cleaning company. “Sometimes I would go to work with her, and it was a great feeling to see someone satisfied and happy with our service,” Smith says.

Despite strong ties with the Marriott brand, the program does not require that students go to work for the company after graduation. Rather, the program is designed to give students a clearer idea of hospitality management as a whole, which can be difficult to understand without firsthand experience.

“That’s why when we go to the properties, I really want students to interact with leaders who are actually working to get a real understanding of what their careers are going to be like when they go into hospitality,” Thomas says. “We sometimes have a difficult time doing that in the classroom, so anything we can do now while the students are in school to give them a realistic impression makes the transition post-graduation that much easier.”

One unique aspect of the partnership is how it expands the ways that industry representatives normally interact with students. “What I’ve been really happy with is Marriott’s passion to participate in this. It’s really great to see,” Thomas says. “So often, the relationship that we see with industry is really guest speaking and maybe coming in for an event. The interaction and the networking that these students have with the industry is remarkable. That’s priceless for the students, and I think this is really going to ignite their desire to go into hospitality. I’ve already gotten emails from students saying how much this means to them. I think they appreciate that Marriott and DePaul have taken an interest in their success.”

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