Could a Student-Run Session or Event Benefit Your Association?

Cornell University lets its Hotel School students plan and execute a weekend conference for leading hospitality professionals. What if your organization did something similar to engage those who are about to enter your industry?

Last weekend, a few hundred hospitality industry leaders from around the world made their way to Ithaca, New York, for a three-day educational conference called Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC). It had all the makings of a typical meeting, including a robust agenda filled with networking receptions, breakout sessions supporting its theme “Food for Thought,” and well-known speakers.

But there’s something about this conference that makes it atypical: It is entirely planned, hosted, and run by students of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

Called a “leadership development experience grounded in experiential learning,” HEC, which has been around for 89 years, allows students to practice the skills they’ve learned in the classroom and showcase their talents to leaders in the hospitality field over the course of the weekend.

Each year, a new managing director and board of directors are selected to manage and lead the HEC organization.  The board is composed of 15 Hotel School students who are responsible for managing the $150,000 HEC budget and for the overall leadership of the conference. Roles on the board include marketing director, guest experience director, and executive chef.  Fellow students who are not on the board work in a number of other capacities, ranging from sous chefs to servers to bartenders to managing the meeting’s social media presence. Even the entire operation of the on-campus Statler Hotel is put in students’ hands for the weekend. (Outside of HEC, the hotel also serves as a “teaching hotel” for students.)

Reading about HEC got me thinking about three things. The first was how it is somewhat similar to my graduate school capstone project: Create and launch a magazine in less than two months. However, the HEC students have it worse than my classmates and I did: Fortunately, our magazine wasn’t critiqued on-the-spot by publishing industry leaders as their event is by hospitality leaders. Talk about pressure!

My second thought was about how associations could do something similar to benefit students who are about to enter their industry. As my colleague Katie Bascuas wrote in our Money and Business Blog yesterday, associations are looking for new ways to adapt and respond to shifting member needs, particularly those of younger members.

Since your association’s student and new members obviously won’t have the hospitality experience Cornell’s students do to execute an entire meeting from scratch, maybe you can give them their time to shine by offering them a time slot to develop and plan a session of their choosing. Or, alternatively, you could have a content track at your meeting specifically for students that is developed with their direct input.

Finally, associations may want to consider how they can use events like HEC to find the next generation of meeting planners and other hospitality professionals for their organizations.

Do you think your association could benefit from student-run sessions or events either run by your organization or other groups? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Students volunteer during a reception at Hotel Ezra Cornell on March 21. (Via the Hotel Ezra Cornell Twitter page)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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