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"You have both great opportunity and great challenges ahead" Nancy McGehee Virginia Tech

In our special Hospitality ON issue on hospitality management schools and trainings (No 308-309/May-June 2021) we interviewed Academic Directors of renowned hotel schools around the world. Here we unveil insights from Nancy McGehee Professor and Department Head of Virginia Tech.

What innovations, programmes and projects have been implemented in your school over the last two years?

Great question! Over the past two years we have especially been focusing on review and revision of our undergraduate curriculum.

The undergraduate faculty have thoroughly analyzed both our existing curriculum as well as our peer and aspirant programs; we have met with industry partners and stakeholders to gain their input, and of course have measured the current trends and economic environment of our field. As a result, we are in the final stages of revision and will soon unveil our new concentrations!

I can provide a couple hints: they will involve technology, the environment, and the larger services industry!

We are also revising our MSBA-HTM, which is located on our campus just outside of DC and right on the metro line, to include additional emphasis on event management as well as the digital economy.

What approach(es) has your school chosen to train its students? What are the specificities of your schools?

Of course in the past year we were forced to really “up our game” in terms of online/virtual teaching. Our faculty worked extremely hard to provide the best of online education, with a focus on synchronous and small-sized classes. In the coming year, however, we are thrilled to be back in the classroom!

Our faculty do plan to utilize what they learned from an online environment to utilize virtual platforms in ways that enhance in-person education. Regardless of the approach, our program is known worldwide for its very applied and practical approach to HTM.

Our recruiters and top employers always brag about how our students are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work! We utilize many real-time projects and case studies, invite over 100 industry partners per year to come speak with us, and are fortunate to have an extremely engaged advisory board that meets twice annually in order to review curriculum and interact extensively with our students.

Finally, we are also excited to get back to international experiences for our students with our semester abroad programs as well as shorter winter-mester sessions.

Has the COVID-19 crisis impacted the students interest in the hospitality industry? 

COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives, so of course it’s impacted our students. But our students are nimble and resilient! We were fortunate that our graduating class of 2020 enjoyed an amazing 93% employment rate!

Our graduates expanded their horizons to search for opportunities in hospitalityadjacent industries in the areas of marketing, finance, and real estate. Our industry partners are currently knocking on our doors asking for our graduates in record numbers.

What values / skills do you think are necessary for the hospitality industry that should be taught in a hotel school?

Leadership and problem-solving are by far the most important skills to teach. In order to excel in these areas, you need to have a blend of data-centric and people-centric skills, so we work hard to develop both in our students.

We include foundational data-focused courses like accounting, finance, revenue management, and business information technology along with courses that develop emotional intelligence including management, human resources, and organizational behavior.

Naturally there is a strong serviceorientation to all of our curriculum. After all, the Virginia Tech motto is Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).

What do you think hoteliers need to do to attract & keep young talent?

This question has been receiving a great deal of attention lately, but I think the answer is really very simple: recognize their value and compensate them accordingly.

The time has come for the industry we love so much to recognize that we are competing against other industries that are willing to pay our graduates more. We do have an advantage in our pocket: so many beautiful places to live and work with really great people. We should use this, along with attractive starting packages, to get and keep the talent we need.

What features/partnerships are you looking for?

We are looking for innovators! There are so many exciting things going on at Virginia Tech, including the universities major expansion to our DC-area campuses in northern Virginia, our partnership with Amazon and its new Headquarters, and our new home in campus that is being built as we speak. We want stakeholders of all kinds, including industry partners, alumni, and peer programs, to bring us their best and most forward-thinking ideas, and we will share ours!

What message would you give to hoteliers?

We are here for you! We appreciate our longstanding industry partners and look forward to helping you in this new era of our industry.

What message would you give to future generations?

You have both great opportunity and great challenges ahead. You are so much more prepared than our generation to take on what the future holds! Be flexible, innovative, and create your own future. It is time for you to lead the way, particularly in terms of innovation, technology, and sustainability.

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