What differentiates us is what we do outside of the classroom.”
Nick Thomas’s transformation from a shy teen in Ellicott City, Md., to an outgoing, globe-trotting hospitality professor at DePaul began with a part-time job as a hotel bellman.
“I really loved the fact that it wasn’t a monotonous job,” Thomas recalls about working as a bellman and, later, front-desk agent at a Hilton hotel outside of Baltimore during high school. “I was very introverted, but when I would get behind the front desk of a hotel, I would get very extroverted. I could talk to people, and I enjoyed that. So, one day, I went to my manager and said, ‘I think I want to do this for my career.’”
Thomas finished high school and headed west to pursue a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). He continued to work in hotel operations while in college and, after becoming a hotel employee trainer, developed a strong interest in hospitality teaching and research. At UNLV he also met his wife, Lisa, who shared his passion for the hospitality industry. The Thomases both completed master’s and PhD degrees in hospitality administration at UNLV, and they taught and held leadership roles at the university’s Singapore campus hospitality program.
In 2011, the couple joined the faculty of DePaul’s School of Hospitality Leadership. Nick directs the school’s J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Center for Student Development and Engagement, and, since fall 2016, he has served as interim associate director of the school. The Thomases’ teaching continues to have global reach; they co-lead a hospitality study abroad course that visits Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau. This academic year, Nick also taught an online course that paired his DePaul students with hospitality students in China.
The School of Hospitality Leadership’s strength, Thomas says, is its emphasis on real-world learning and innovation. “I feel really confident that what we do inside the classroom is solid, it’s rigorous,” he says. “The students are acquiring knowledge and figuring out how to apply that knowledge. But I think what differentiates us is what we do outside of the classroom—how we do industry job recruitment, the kind of personalized career guidance that the (Marriott) center provides, the mentorships that faculty and industry offer students, and the half-dozen student clubs we have. For a program of our size, I think we have an extremely large footprint in the hospitality industry.”
The best part of his job, Thomas says, is seeing students transform into budding hospitality leaders through the school’s industry partnerships and hands-on learning.
“Getting emails from students saying ‘I got the job offer’ and ‘I got into the management training program that I want,’ that’s one of the most gratifying things in my career.”
By Robin Florzak | Photo by Kathy Hillegonds