April 19, 2007

Students Staff Statler

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Last Friday evening, while most Cornellians were enjoying the start of a weekend, hundreds of students in the Hotel School were busily cooking, setting tables, perfecting decorations and practicing speeches. The event that was soon to start in the Grand Ballroom of the Statler Hotel, the annual Gala dinner, would host nearly 300 hotel industry leaders for the evening.
The dinner was just one of many events that took place over the past weekend as part of the 82nd annual Hotel Ezra Cornell, which brought hundreds of hotel industry leaders to Cornell, and even more hotel students to plan and execute the weekend. Guests paid up to $1250 to be pampered in the hotel, eat gourmet food and participate in seminars relating to the industry.
“It’s a great way to bring industry leaders to campus,” said Arthur Chang ’07, managing director of HEC. “[For students] it’s not just about volunteering for an event. It’s really about showcasing the school. We are trying to show that we are not just about food and beverage and hotel operations, but a school for everything business and hospitality related. We are a very important part of Cornell.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “sustainability through innovation.”
“We wanted to do something relevant to everyone,” Chang said. “So we wanted to talk about sustainability, both environmentally and organizationally. And you need innovation to make that happen.”
Guests arrived on Thursday night for an opening cocktail. Each guest was met by a student concierge who would take care of their every need throughout the weekend, including placing personalized amenities tailored to each guest in their rooms.
The event kicked into full gear on Friday morning when Leland Pillsbury ’69, chairman and CEO of Thayer Lodging Group, addressed a packed crowd of professionals, students and professors in the Statler Auditorium.
“A master is someone who knows all aspects of his or her field,” Pillsbury said. “But more than an expert, a master has not only acquired knowledge, but the practical experience and skills to apply it. You must not only master your discipline, you must be able to teach it and develop similar skills in your team.”
Pillsbury and his wife recently donated $15 million to the Hotel School’s Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship.
During the weekend, students, professors and industry leaders led seminars that ranged from lectures about supply chain management to chocolate and wine tastings to panel discussions about sustainability.
In one seminar, guests discussed a branding case study that Hotel School students created in collaboration with Sue Brush, senior vice president of Westin Hotels and Resorts. In another, Ethan Hawkes ’07 talked about research that he had done in Jamaica and Lebanon entitled “Connecting with Culture: A Case Study in Sustainable Tourism.”
Themed meals were prepared and served throughout the weekend, among them the Friday night Gala banquet, and a five course dinner completely prepared with fresh local products.
“The entire room was really beautiful for all the dinners I served at,” said Jess Li ’10, who worked at a few of the events during the course of the weekend. “I’ve served at weddings before, and this was so much nicer. It was a great feeling to work with so many people at such a huge and complex event. I was really proud to be a part of it.”
A highlight of the weekend was the student concept fair, where a number of students presented business concepts and ideas that they had developed in class. One group proposed a social network where Cornellians could meet people online and in person. Another group displayed plans for a library themed nightclub in Collegetown. HEC guests were given checkbooks in which they could invest up to a million “dollars” in each of the concepts. Students were awarded cash prizes at the end of the event.
HEC also moved outside of the Hotel School campus on Friday evening for after dinner cocktails and desserts at the Johnson Museum. Guests mingled with students and professors, viewed art, and at the end of the night Chang surprised the audience with a violin solo.
“HEC 82 truly was the best ever,” said Michael Johnson, dean of the Hotel School. “Accolades are pouring in from alums all over the country who attended this year’s event. When it came time to execute, the board and all of the volunteers from the Hotel School and from across campus delivered. Our students never cease to amaze me.”
Today, HEC is at a crossroads. Whereas the weekend used to be an “alumni schmooze-fest of wining and dining,” according to Chang, more recent HEC leaders have strived to “make it an educational experience.”
“We wanted to make it of interest to students and guests alike,” said Chang. “This is why we chose sustainability as a theme. It really affects all of us and it connects the past to the future.”
As HEC carries into the future, the event will keep changing in order to best showcase hospitality education. For now it continues to be a source of pride for everyone at the Hotel School.
“It’s a real team effort,” said Prof. Reneta McCarthy, hotel administration, who helps oversee the weekend. “One or two people can’t do this. At the end of the weekend the students are incredibly proud. It’s just wonderful. I’m always amazed to see what the students accomplish.”