University Park

Alumni return to hospitality classrooms to offer life lessons

University Park, Pa. — The acronym M.P.D. has little meaning unless you’ve heard Penn State alumnus Bart Berkey explain it. Berkey’s mantra, “most people don’t,” was just one of the invaluable tips offered to Penn State School of Hospitality Management students last week during its third annual Alumni in the Classroom event.

“Most people don’t pick up the phone to call a client back; they simply hit 'reply.' Most people don’t say 'please' and 'thank you;' they take things for granted. If you want to be unique and stand out from the crowd,” said Berkey, “make sure you make the effort to ‘do.’ ”

Berkey, who graduated in 1989 with a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management (HRIM), and about three dozen other alumni returned to campus through the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society (PSHRS) Alumni in the Classroom program, which gives students the unique opportunity to learn from, and network with, the industry’s best. Students and alumni also mingled at the Alumni Awards Reception, held Wednesday, Oct. 1.

Nan Crouter, dean of the College of Health and Human Development, also attended the reception. “The students really made an effort to extend themselves and it paid off," she said. "There was a great deal of mingling and good conversation.”

Paul Howard, Penn State’s director of hospitality industry relations, pointed out that this program is one of many ways PSHRS unites its student and alumni members. “We take 120 students to the International Hotel/Motel and Restaurant Show in New York City every November as the PSHRS gives its annual Hospitality Executive of the Year award,” said Howard. “The two groups also combine to do our annual pig roast tailgate before the Blue-White Game.”

PSHRS has nearly 500 alumni members and is affiliated with the Penn State Alumni Association and the College of Health and Human Development Alumni Society. The society also has a strong student chapter and serves as a bridge from past to present in the School of Hospitality Management.

Alexander Toner, a senior majoring in HRIM, considered that connection to be the highlight of his Alumni in the Classroom experience. “We got to talk to people who went to Penn State, so they know exactly what we’re going through right now,” said Toner. “I like knowing that we have a great group of alumni that we can contact when we get out there in the real world.”

PSHRS Secretary and Awards Chairperson Jennifer Tracy brought more than just real-world advice to the classroom; she also used her own company’s services to benefit two lucky students. “We held an in-class contest and the winners each received a three-hour career makeover through my company, Career Movement,” said Tracy, who graduated from Penn State twice, in 1995 with a degree in HRIM, and in 2005 with an MBA. “They can use the session to discuss anything they like, such as interview skills, resume help and job search tips.”

Vivienne Wildes, assistant professor of HRIM, said the alumni do a great job of affirming what students are already learning in the classroom. “When the students raise their hands in class and answer an alum’s question, I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I taught them that,” she explained.

Berkey, who now works as a talent acquisition director for Ritz-Carlton, said Penn State professors taught him to work hard and prepare for the future, and he hopes to pass that influence on to future hospitality management professionals. “I can remember the impression that certain recruiters left on me when they visited Penn State,” said Berkey, “and I am determined to do the same thing — by offering solid, constructive advice.” 

Penn State alumnus Bart Berkey takes time to answer students' questions after class during the School of Hospitality Management's annual Alumni in the Classroom event. Credit: Steve Tressler / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated November 18, 2010