Hands-on hospitality: Learning the art of planning successful events

Senior HM Students
Hospitality management students in the senior seminar planned a large industry appreciation event. Photo credit: Jim Selzer

Students in the Hospitality Management Program at CSU have some unique opportunities for hands-on learning. As part of their senior seminar, the students plan an industry appreciation event from beginning to end for hospitality industry professionals around northern Colorado.

Event planners ‘went big’

“This industry appreciation event has been happening now for 10 years, so this year we went big!” said Teagan Knaus, a student in the class who was in charge of public relations. “This semester’s graduating seniors invited alumni from the last decade, which includes all of those students who put on the industry appreciation event, to come back and celebrate how far they have come since graduation.”

The event, which took place on April 29, was billed as the Hospitality Management Alumni Celebration Event. HM instructor Eric Milholland’s event planning class began working on the guest list in early fall 2016. The event was composed of a tour of campus, including a tour of the brand-new stadium, a mixer and cocktail hour, as well as a seated dinner. Soo Kang, a faculty member in HM, co-taught the class with Milholland. They split the students into three groups in charge of food and beverage, event planning, and marketing. The students also interviewed for several positions, including general manager, two assistant general managers, and other leadership positions.

‘Signature project’

“The industry appreciation event has been a signature project for the hospitality management program,” said Kang. “This is where the academic meets the industry by creating a unique opportunity for networking and celebration of new industry professionals entering the hospitality industry. This particular semester, I am proud of our students who took on this big challenge with heart and pulled it off through their hard work and great teamwork.”

“Having the hands-on experience really puts into perspective all the things our professors have been teaching and repeating to us the last four years,” said Kendra Sarmento, who served as the assistant general manager for the event. “You don’t realize how right they are until you live it! It also helps with networking so much more than you would think. I met and talked with so many people at the event this year that maybe weren’t hiring themselves, but they knew people who were.”

Sarmento graduated in May and is taking a trip around Europe for a few weeks, and then making Denver her permanent home while she looks for a job in event or travel planning.

Facilities tours, mixer and dinner

Decorated tables in the ballroom
Photo credit: Jim Selzer

The multi-faceted event included special tours of the New Belgium Fermentation Science and Technology lab and the newly remodeled kitchen in the Gifford Building, the home of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, which houses the hospitality management major. Next the guests took a hardhat tour of the football stadium. “We are very fortunate to have been able to show our guests the new stadium, and it was a cool opportunity for some of the graduating seniors to see the stadium as well,” said Knaus.

The mixer and cocktail hour, held in the Aspen Grille and University Club area of the Lory Student Center, featured appetizers and a beer pairing menu, all procured through donations. All of the food was prepared by seniors on the food and beverage team and served by volunteer underclassmen in the Hospitality Management Program. The cocktail hour was focused mainly on networking with alumni who could be a source of employment for the seniors or give them leads as they prepared to graduate.

“Getting hands-on experience not only benefits the college and campus, but also our futures in the industry as professionals,” said Nick Sabina, who served as the general manager for the event. Sabina accepted a position as assistant general manager of Snooze in Houston after graduation.

The main dinner, held in the Lory Student Center, featured donated food and beverages prepared by the food and beverage team and served by volunteers. It was a celebration of how far the alumni have come since they graduated — whether it was 10 years ago or last semester — and a celebration of the graduating seniors who put the event together from conception to execution.

Personalized message from Frank

Jeff Miller
Hospitality management Program Coordinator Jeff Miller spoke at the event. Photo credit: Jim Selzer

The students received a personalized video message from CSU President Tony Frank, and College of Health and Human Sciences Dean Jeff McCubbin spoke at the event. Jeff Miller, program coordinator for hospitality management, also spoke. After the speakers, Scott McConahy, the student emcee, gave a short presentation on changes around campus over the last 10 years and then led a creative Jeopardy game over dessert.

Kyra O’Neill, a student in the class who was part of the event planning group, has a six-month management internship with Marriott in Newport Beach, California. After that, she plans to work internationally for a few years in HR or PR. “The event gave us the opportunity to work with a team of our peers to get real-world, stressful, hands-on experience. Seeing it all come together after two semesters of our hard work was priceless and exhilarating,” she said.

“I am so proud of our class and the event that we put together,” added Katie Selzer, who led the event planning group. “Once everything was set up and before our guests were arriving, I couldn’t believe that we actually pulled it off!”

Donors included Shamrock, Aspen Baking, Seattle Fish, Wibby Brewing, Horse and Dragon Brewery, Odell Brewing Co., Republic National Distributing Company, Embassy Suites Hotel in Loveland, Lux Events, Jax Outdoor Gear, Fort Collins Hilton, Red Cow restaurant, Savory Spice Shop, Kilwins Fort Collins, Music City Hot Chicken, and Beer Cap Maps.

The Hospitality Management Program is in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Teagan Knaus contributed to this article.