Spotlight on Alumni
Jessica Linder '16
Galesburg Chamber of Commerce
Why did you
decide to attend DePaul?
I’m originally from a small town in Central Illinois and I was set on ending up in the city. DePaul was the image of a city school, which is what originally attracted me to it. In the end, what brought me to DePaul was the university’s focus on service and being a global citizen. The message of Vincentian service resonated with me from day one. I also loved the diversity that DePaul presented, having the city at my fingertips and as my classroom, and the access to personal relationships with professors.
What was your favorite class/professor
I loved many of my courses, and the professors were far and above what made my DePaul experience so wonderful. Inside and outside of the classroom, I was mentored and challenged by Nick and Lisa Thomas, Shelley Gibbons and Brian Barker, as well as others. I keep in touch with them still today and have sought advice from each of them at one point since graduation. I couldn’t be more grateful to them!
One course from my education career still stands out to me as being pretty pivotal. I took a Destination Marketing course with Nancy Umansky toward the end of my education career at DePaul. The course was very hands-on and full of real-world examples of tourism and destination marketing, from seeing real RFPs to industry speakers and hands-on destination analysis. In fact, I made my tourism staff read the book used in that course because it was so relevant. The course caught my attention and was the moment I found my niche in hospitality.
How did your DePaul education help you succeed professionally?
I could go on and on about this one! Far and above, I feel that my
education at DePaul made me a polished professional. The hospitality school
gave me access to industry leaders and taught me how to interact like a
professional even when I felt barely like a student. By the time I graduated, I
had presentation skills, networking skills, dinner etiquette, and was
comfortable using those skills around senior professionals. Our courses and
education not only polished my professionalism but were also hands-on. I had presented
to some of the top executives in the nation and competed in simulations that
were extremely challenging. Because of how the curriculum and extra activities
pushed me, I graduated feeling comfortable speaking in industry lingo, and I
knew how to ask the right questions to do well and move up quickly.
What is the best part of
I love watching my team succeed. Training a team member to
give excellent customer service and then watching them make it their own is far
and above my favorite. It feels good to give great service myself, but the
feeling of seeing one of my own team, who has worked so hard to prepare for the
moment when they get to shine, get that feeling from great service, is
Contrasting that completely, I love mining
through tourism data. The numbers tell interesting stories; you just have to
make them talk. It’s nerdy, but I love when I can take a pile of numbers -
visitor demographics, economic impact numbers, overnight trends, etc. - and put
it all together to finally find where to advertise to reach our target market,
figure out which hospitality assets our own citizens are going somewhere else
for, or even estimate the impact of our industry.
Those are pretty different aspects of my job
to love, but I think that’s the beauty of this industry. You’re never limited.
You can do 30 completely different tasks in a day and like them all for
different reasons. It keeps things interesting.
What advice do you have
for students seeking to enter the hospitality industry?
Stay strong. Stay focused. Keep your head up. What I think we
don’t always realize coming out of school is that we’re going to mess up.
Guests are going to yell at you. You’re going to make mistakes. There are going
to be days when you feel like you have no idea what you are doing. You’re going
to work really long hours. You’re going to get called at 2 a.m. because the
phones in the entire hotel went down or there’s a fire in the laundry room at
Just remember that we’ve all walked in your
shoes. Your managers and predecessors didn’t have it any more together than you
will! Save the compliments and write down the winning moments. Those are why
you do what you do, and it’s extremely helpful to look back at those moments
when you need some encouragement. Oh, and know that it will get better! You’ll
feel less clueless every day. And get a mentor as fast as possible, because
they’ll be there to remind you why you love your industry and to tell you that
you’re doing far better than you think.
Why did you decide to
remain involved in the School of Hospitality Leadership after graduation?
I value education immensely. The School of Hospitality
Leadership shaped me into not only the professional that I am today, but to
some extent the person I am. I gained confidence, skills, friends, mentors and
countless memories from this program. I know how invaluable having access to
industry leaders and their mentorship was to me, and I’ll do anything I can to
provide that same experience for another student.
What skills are high in
demand in the hospitality industry right now?
Soft skills, soft skills, soft skills. This is across the board
in all industries right now. Do not leave school without a great resume and
better handshake. Companies from hospitality and tourism to manufacturing and
machinery are hungry for people who have great customer service skills, present
themselves well, show up to work on time, and can interact in a team
The other high demand skill is data analytics.
In hotels and especially tourism, we need people who know the numbers. There is
more data available than ever before, and the ability to interpret it and turn
the numbers into action is a huge need. If you can do that and do it well, you
have a job with me - that’s for sure!
Kevin Arnold '15
Director of Training and Development
Gibsons Restaurant Group
Why did you decide to attend DePaul?
My time in the Peace Corps as a Community and Economic Development Volunteer in Paraguay allowed me the opportunity to teach a variety of skills – from leadership to English as a second language. It made me realize that of all the experiences I had as a manager at the Gibsons Restaurant Group, I enjoyed training and inspiring new hires the most. While perusing through social media in Paraguay, I noticed that another manager in the company, Mike Avella, was an adjunct professor at DePaul.
I had always envisioned my career in the hospitality leading to a teaching position and seeing Mike’s success with the program made me realize that working for a university was a possibility. When I came back home from Paraguay and rejoined the Gibsons Restaurant Group, one of the first thinks I did was contact Mike to see how I could start teaching at DePaul myself. Mike told me that, although I had the experience necessary, I would still need a master’s degree. This was not a surprise, but I knew there were not many master’s programs in the area that focused on hospitality. As it turned out, the only program that sounded interesting to me was at DePaul itself.
What was your favorite class/professor and why?
This is tough. I enjoyed all of the classes at DePaul, and Dr. Nick, Dr. Lisa and Professor Barker all brought unique and personal teaching styles to the table. However, my favorite class/teacher was not in the school of Hospitality but rather in Marketing. Dr. Zafar Iqbal was one of the best professors I have had in both my undergraduate and graduate experiences. His Marketing 540 Strategic Planning class was challenging and dynamic and his style of teaching was engaging and thought-provoking. I’d recommend his class to anyone. The class made me think about the business world in a different way.
How did your DePaul education help you succeed professionally?
I have worked for the Gibsons Restaurant Group (GRG) for almost 11 years and gained a lot of experience as a manager at different levels. I consider them my family and loved being a manager, but I started to realize I had ambitions outside of operations management early on. When I expressed interest in completing my master’s and starting to teach at DePaul, they saw immediately that it would benefit not only me but the company as well. DePaul is a great place to recruit the future leaders of GRG, and adding to the repertoire of GRG representatives at DePaul (Professors Mike Avella and John Colletti, School of Hospitality Advisory Council Member and Managing Partner of GRG) would help strengthen the bond with DePaul and its students.
The GRG supported my goal of attaining my master’s both financially and by granting me the flexibility in my schedule needed to complete my heavy class load. I was not aware at the time, but the Executive Committee of GRG had a new position in mind for me. In November 2016, they promoted me to the Director of Training and Development for the Gibsons Restaurant Group, only four months after I had attained my Master’s in Science of Hospitality Leadership and Operational Performance. This was not a coincidence.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my current position is the collaboration I can facilitate and the change I can affect throughout the GRG and with entities outside of the company. I enjoy designing training materials and programs as well as inspiring managers and employees to achieve their goals, but making employees at all levels feel comfortable enough to give input and feel like their voice is heard is what really makes the position special to me. It helps us evolve our training and development programs to truly reflect the ambitions of all of the players in the company, not just those who hold positions of power or authority. It reminds me of the projects I used to work on in the Peace Corps.
What advice do you have for students seeking to enter the hospitality industry?
Listen and ask questions. A lot of questions. Don’t be the “I know” person. No one likes the “I know” person, even if what they are saying is right. Even if you know the answer, there is no need to prove yourself right all the time. There is most likely something to learn from the person with experience, but those who think they know will never see it because they are too busy talking and not listening.
In the Peace Corps, there was an icebreaker we used to play where we chose four to five different animals that made different noises (i.e.,. cats say “meow,” dogs say “ruff,” chickens say “cock-a-doodle-do, etc.). We would take a large group of people and make them form a circle. We would then whisper in each person’s ear one of the four to five animals of which they would have to make the sound. Everybody was told to close their eyes and keep them shut. They were then instructed, at the count of three, to try to find the other members of the group making the same noise as them. It was never easy because, while they were making the noise, they couldn’t listen for others that were making the noise as well. The most successful participants were those that listened most the time and only occasionally made a sound. The moral of the story was you can’t listen effectively if all you do is talk, or if all you do while someone else is talking is think about what you are going to say next.
Why did you decide to remain involved in the School of Hospitality Leadership after graduation?
It was the goal from the start, and meeting the staff and going through the program only strengthened my resolve to become a professor in the School of Hospitality. What makes me want to be involved in more than a teaching capacity is the students I met in classes and at DePaul events. A lot of the older generation in the hospitality industry and beyond is confused by the Millennial generation, but spending time with the students in my classes made me realize there is nothing to be confused about. millennials are just as diverse as any other generation and therefore have a lot to offer every company, no matter how old or young. I want to remain engaged with that and foster that diversity to make the hospitality industry stronger than it has ever been.
What skills are high in demand in the hospitality industry right now?
Technological skills and adaptability are always in demand as they can lead to increased profitability and efficiency and enhance the guest experience. In my opinion, however, the skills the future of the industry will depend on revolve around human resources. Good managers will need to be knowledgeable in the laws and policies designed to protect their employees and meld them with the goals and practices of the company to which they are beholden. Managers will need to be able to communicate and empathize with their employees effectively to ensure the growth of their company and the hospitality industry.