Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit usfsm.edu/anniversary.
Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu, director of the M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation, remembers a conversation three years ago with Jeff Mayers, general manager of the Resort at Longboat Key Club.
The two were part of a panel discussion about tourism. Afterward, Dr. Cobanoglu suggested the resort and USFSM’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership (CHTL) collaborate. The college was seeking a venue for students to receive “real-world” training and the resort wanted qualified candidates to fill out key positions.
Nine months later in the fall of 2014 the institutions formalized their partnership and established the 410-acre Longboat Key resort as the CHTL’s official “teaching hotel” for hospitality students. The agreement proved a turning point for the college and its students.
Each semester, dozens of CHTL students observe staff across different levels of business at the resort, from front desk operations and housekeeping to the “tennis gardens” and the resort’s eight restaurants.
“At the Resort at Longboat Key Club, they train people to the highest level,” Dr. Cobanoglu said. “They are amazing.”
The fact the agreement came together so quickly was “amazing” as well, he said, adding that it demonstrated how both sides valued their partnership. Plus, numerous graduates have been helped through internships and jobs.
Other recent agreements have also proved beneficial to the CHTL. Thanks to a gift from Tampa businessman John McKibbon III’s JB McKibbon Foundation, the CHTL was able to establish the “M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation” in October 2013.
The center conducts cutting-edge research to advance the hospitality industry globally and allows USFSM to share with other universities groundbreaking educational technologies in hotel accounting, property management systems and business software.
Also in 2013, the college signed a four-year lease on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch to establish the college’s Culinary Innovation Lab, or CIL.
Through this teaching kitchen and culinary laboratory, outfitted with state-of-the-art refrigerators, ranges, ovens and other equipment, students can gain “real-world experience” on the restaurant/event side of the hospitality business. They learn about food preparation and safety, dining presentation and restaurant/event management, in addition to the behind-the-scenes work of staging “live” catered events for university supporters.
Joe Askren, director of the CIL, says the lab offers students one other valuable lesson as well: leadership skills.
“What we do at the CIL is more than hands-on training,” he said. “It’s about giving our students confidence and teaching them interpersonal communication skills, critical-thinking skills, and combining that with hands-on experience so that they have confidence in what they’re doing. Also, learning the value of a good work ethic is important.”
Few graduates step directly from hospitality colleges into management positions, but because of the training that occurs at the CIL as well as at the Resort at Longboat Key Club many are fast-tracked for management jobs.
“Just teaching theory does them no good,” Askren said. “They need hands-on experience and they get that here at the CIL and the Longboat Key Club.”