A new partnership with a prominent hotel brand is helping DePaul University undergraduate students gain real-world knowledge about the hospitality industry.
A $200,000 gift from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation led the School of Hospitality Leadership to launch the Marriott Hospitality Scholars Program, which provides 10 freshmen and 10 juniors each with a $10,000, J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Hospitality Scholarship, paid over a two-year period.
DePaul has long known that creating connections with corporations helps students develop marketable skills and prepares them for in-demand jobs, and the program is an expansion of the school's emphasis on professional development and career-focused business education.
DePaul Junior Elana Smith landed a summer internship after being a Marriott scholar. Here she participates in a teamwork exercise with Marriott staff and fellow student scholars.
The scholars program benefits students in different ways. For freshmen, the program's activities are designed to spark an interest in choosing a path in the hospitality degree program. For juniors, the scholarship provides support for students completing a hospitality degree. In addition, each freshman is paired with a junior 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.
Marriott Scholars Program is Distinctive at DePaul
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, conflict management, culture and diversity.
Following the workshops, students visit local Chicago Marriott properties to see how hotel leaders are applying such concepts. For example, in March, students completed a workshop on motivation and morale and then toured the newly renovated Marriott Magnificent Mile.
The scholars 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.
"I wanted to become a Marriott Scholar to be able to enhance my focus in the lodging industry and to learn the core of hospitality — service — from one of the leading brands in the world," says Dana Bartolon, a junior majoring in hospitality leadership. "I wanted to be able to learn about leadership techniques from industry professionals and how to give the best service to all my future guests."
Marriott Program Helps Hospitality Hopefuls
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 than steer students to a particular chain, the program is designed to give students a clearer idea of hospitality management as a whole, which can be hard 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."
Scholar Chris Contos agrees. "My favorite part about the program was the property tour of the Marriott Magnificent Mile. We got to know the recent hospitality graduates that were a part of Marriott's [management training] program. Their insight provided me some guidance toward what it was like working for Marriott right out of college," says Contos, a junior majoring in hospitality leadership, with a double minor in economics and management.
The property tour also helped Sofija Veta, a freshman minoring in hospitality. "Being able to ask questions and hearing what the hotel professionals had to go through and accomplish to get to where they are now was really eye opening and enlightening. It was comforting to hear firsthand from these professionals that at one point in their lives they were all in our shoes," she says.
Students Network with Hospitality Leaders at VIP Events
In addition to property tours, scholars are able to attend VIP events that feature industry leaders. Thomas says such events are indicative of how the partnership 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."
Scholar Hayley Delaney, a freshman who hopes to major in hospitality, agrees. "I was interested in becoming a Marriott Scholar because I love the hotel industry, and the Marriott brand is so good at what it does, I thought learning from them would be a great experience," she says.