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Published on 10/14/21

UGA partnership prepares students to succeed in key Georgia industry

By Émilie Gille for CAES News
Connor Logan meets with his mentor Taylor Garren inside the Georgia Center
Connor Logan (left), a fourth year hospitality and food industry management major, meets with his mentor Taylor Garren as a part of his event planning internship with the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

When Connor Logan graduates from the University of Georgia with his degree in hospitality and food industry management, he’ll have in-depth knowledge of his chosen field and hands-on experience in food and beverage service, front desk responsibilities, revenue management, and sales and events — all the critical elements of running a big hotel.

And he’ll have been paid for the experience, interning at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel.

“I was able to spend time in several departments and get a good overview of what it takes to run a hotel,” said Logan, a fourth-year student who plans a career in hotel management.

UGA’s hospitality and food industry management major in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) is a one-stop shop for academics and real world opportunities, ensuring that graduates not only know what they are supposed to do but how to do it. Their hands-on learning takes place at the Georgia Center, where they can experience all aspects of running a hotel, conference center and restaurants.

“Our role is to create opportunities for students to have an internship experience here early on in their studies, making it convenient for them to have a class and then work here,” said Stacy Jones, director of the Georgia Center. “Whether they’re assigned into a food and beverage, hotel, or special events internship, they are able to gain experience that they can add to their portfolio.”

John Salazar, a man in a suit and glasses, smiles in his professional headshot
Hospitality and food industry management coordinator John Salazar

Launched in 2019, the program had 79 students enrolled in fall 2021, well ahead of its three-year goal of 55 students.

The hospitality and tourism industry is the second largest economic engine in the state. It generated almost $69 billion in 2019, but was down by $2.8 million (16.8%) between February 2020 and May 2021 because of the pandemic. As the market rebounds, however, the businesses will need trained employees.

The internship program at the Georgia Center provides students with the opportunity to explore different aspects of the hospitality program and figure out where they want to focus. The students are required to complete 400 hours of internship credit as a part of the degree requirements of the program.

Georgia Center employees also join the students in the classroom, offering real data they can analyze and assess. For example, students in the hotel sales and revenue management class were able to review data collected before COVID that showed food costs and what was driving them higher. The students then developed three cost reduction strategies to share with the Georgia Center.

“With the hospitality and tourism industry being the second largest economic generator in the state of Georgia, being able to provide these educational opportunities and the opportunity to gain a hands-on understanding of industry nuances is a very important niche for us,” said John Salazar, coordinator of the hospitality program and associate professor in the CAES Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Tyler Grace Hunt, a fourth-year student, was among the first students accepted into the hospitality program and in the first group of interns at the Georgia Center.

Taylor Grace Hunt helps a guest at the concierge desk of the Georgia Center.
Tyler Grace Hunt (left), a fourth year Hospitality and Food Industry Management major, helps a guest while working at concierge desk of the Georgia Center. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

“I started as an intern at the Georgia Center in the fall of 2020 and the hotel was actually closed (due to COVID,)” said Hunt. “But I still learned a lot and got to work with many different people throughout the departments here, which helped me in my next internship.”

From there, Hunt did a summer 2021 internship with the DeSoto Hotel in Savannah. This semester she is back at the Georgia Center working the front desk. She hopes to work at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel when she graduates.

Maya Dubos, in her first semester in the hospitality program, wasn’t eligible for an internship until she had taken two courses to introduce her to the major. So she took a job as a student worker at the Georgia Center, starting as a banquet manager. Dubos says she’s always been interested in event management and wanted to learn more about catering.

“Having the opportunity to gain work experience with a hotel on campus while getting my education is why the program appealed to me,” Dubos said. “They understand that you’re a student too and work with your schedule. Nowhere else are you going to find something like that, where they really want you to grow and learn and want you to do well after you graduate.”

“The Georgia Center is that feather in our cap,” Salazar said. “They provide our students with a deeper understanding of the hospitality industry and having that feather really does help us support our growth.”

Learn more about the hospitality and food industry management degree at agecon.uga.edu

Émilie Gille is the public relations coordinator for UGA Public Service and Outreach.