How San José State University started “ Serving the World from Silicon Valley”
The Origins of the Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management
The Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management (“HTEM”) at San José State University (“SJSU”) looks to the future with the same optimism, opportunity and unique industry collaboration shared by those who launched it in 1993 as a small program with a handful of students. Today, HTEM not only mirrors the growth of the City of San José as a major metropolitan area and the tenth largest city in the United States, but also embraces the entrepreneurship, enthusiasm, and vision which made Silicon Valley the host to the global technology community.
A core group of visionaries conceived of the hospitality program, but student need, industry support, legal guidance and university approval brought the program to life and nurtured the program through its adolescence into the maturity of an academic department now known as HTEM which consists of hundreds of students and thousands of graduates. As the last century entered its last decade, it was hardly clear how these disparate groups would coalesce into an academic endeavor let alone a SJSU program, but ultimately the concept came to fruition with the offering of a new academic disciple at SJSU. On the academic side, the late Dr. Kathleen L. Sullivan, then a professor in the SJSU Recreation Department along with others identified the need for an university program beyond the recreational needs of public entities and one which would address the hospitality industry’s insatiable appetite for new hospitality talent and professionals needed to meet the hospitality and event planning demands of Silicon Valley and beyond. In unison with the recognition of this need, changes and improvements to the physical landscape of downtown San José were beginning to take root as the downtown core of the City of San José began its recovery from decades of urban neglect and blight. The investment by the City of San José in the infrastructure of downtown San José was fueled not only by the taxpayer’s funds, but also by the optimism of city officials that the City of San José, itself, would soon join the ranks of the great cities of the world and become its own destination venue.
The jewel of the City of San José’s redevelopment effort was the San José Fairmont Hotel built by a client of the law firm of one of HTEM’s original faculty members and attorney, Joseph E. Dworak. After the Fairmont Hotel and related downtown improvements became operational in 1987, Mr. Dworak was asked by Dr. Sullivan and the administration of SJSU to lend his and his law firm’s support to a new academic endeavor. He did and Mr. Dworak became a founding faculty member and a reliable advisor to HTEM and its faculty and staff. Yet, Mr. Dworak was hardly alone. Daniel Fenton who later went on to lead Team San José in its management of the San José Convention Center was also summoned to duty. As students filled the classrooms and talented instructors were needed, the hospitality industry heeded the call for faculty assistance and reached into its own talent pool and HTEM landed experienced hospitality professionals such as Richard Larson, Terrence Thompson and Barbara Radcliff who agreed to help HTEM as advisors and instructors. The industry faculty provided credibility, and needed depth to the program. HTEM students not only learned in the classroom, but also received valuable practical experience and knowledge from a vibrant internship program. Other unique ventures beyond internships were also initiated and were designed and developed to provide practical insight and industry training beyond the confines of a lecture hall. The HTEM Pebble Beach Resorts Management team was inaugurated and expanded by Mr. Larson, and it has become a critical component to the worldwide watched annual Pebble Beach Resorts Pro Am golf tournament. Mr. Larson’s pioneering work is now being carried on and taken to new levels by Mr. Thompson and has become a unique training and educational experience for HTEM students. However, HTEM educational innovation did not start and end at Pebble Beach. Others from industry also brought their own unique insights and talents and corollary class offerings. Seth Orvis introduced HTEM to the hospitality of wine and designed the HTEM wine appreciation course. In the wake of the success of the wine appreciation course, a beer appreciation course followed with Dr. Sullivan at the tap leading the effort and drafting student interest and engagement along with industry support. Her legacy in this class is now being carried on by Mr. Dworak who in conjunction with Dr. Cormany will be revamping and expanding the beer appreciation course into one with university wide appeal and national recognition by focusing less on the brewing of beer and more on the hospitality of beer.
During its first decade, HTEM experienced its expected growth, and the original program was well on its path to becoming a department within the SJSU’ s College of Applied Sciences and Arts (“CASA”). Growth precipitated the need for additional classroom talent beyond the original founding instructors. New faculty was critical to the continuing success of HTEM and a new generation of talented professors joined HTEM. The first wave of academic talent started with Dr. Tsu-Hung Yen, a doctorial classmate of Dr. Sullivan at the University of Illinois. She called upon Dr. Yen to leave the cold of the Midwest to join her as a faculty member at SJSU. Dr. Yen brought his family west and Dr. Sullivan better known by her beloved students as Dr. Kate eventually turned over leadership responsibility to Dr. Yen who has taken on the solemn duty to lead the department to even greater success as HTEM’s department chairperson. Dr. Sullivan, until her death in 2018, along with Dr. Yen assembled a team of excellent educators from both inside and outside the academic community. Although a few original industry professionals including Mr. Dworak, Ms. Radcliff and Mr. Thompson remain, new academic faces from top notch universities from all parts of the United States and the world can now be seen behind HTEM classroom podiums. These include Dr. Cormany, Dr. Ha, Dr. Huang, and Dr. Memarzadeh. These talented academicians are joined by industry professionals Mr. Andre, Mr. Adams, Mr. Jones, Mr. Ocegueda, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Haven each who provide their own expertise to enhance the students’ learning environment and the department’s reputation.
The future is bright for the HTEM. Many exciting initiatives are underway. A master’s degree is in the works with Dr. Yen taking the lead. The breadth of HTEM’s academic courses is being expanded as well as the depth of student learning opportunities. Dr. Yen and Mr. Dworak are working on class material to introduce HTEM students and future hospitality professionals not simply to the internal operations of a hotel or other hospitality property, but also to the skills necessary to acquire and develop hospitality real estate. This real estate development course will be the first of its kind at SJSU. No other SJSU department will offer such an in-depth analysis of the symbiotic relationship between hospitality entities and the real estate they own. HTEM is also well on its way in joining the ranks of premier hospitality departments in the United States and beyond as the thousands of HTEM graduates make their own way through, if not mark upon, the greater hospitality industry.
However, the growth and expansion of HTEM will not be at the expense of the intimate learning environment and the special academic relationship between HTEM students and HTEM faculty. The HTEM department will always be true to its core commitment to hospitality. HTEM students will never be mere classroom placeholders for future generations of students, but rather will become members of a unique academic family best displayed at HTEM graduation ceremonies which have always had the feel and environment of a family gathering rather than a university event. No doubt, the future success of HTEM and its thousands of students that have graduated as well as the those HTEM students yet to set foot on the campus of SJSU will always been defined by the early days of the program and the genuine concern Dr. Kate had for all HTEM students. The sense of family started by Dr. Kate and embraced by all HTEM faculty will continue to define and direct the future success of HTEM.