Left to right at last month’s HFTP conference in Las Vegas: Dr. Katerina Berezina, club advisor; Olena Ciftci, secretary; Dimitar Dimitrov, treasurer; Nefike Günden, vice president; Alyssa Culver, director of events; Frida Bahja, president; and Michael Bonn, director of marketing.

USF Sarasota-Manatee student club wins national award

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: November 14, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2016) USF Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership has earned another distinction, only it’s the students who are winning accolades now.

The college’s faculty has won recent praise for publishing articles and prestigious editing assignments, but now a group of undergraduate and graduate students that comprise the student chapter of Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals (HFTP) is making a splash. The group was recently recognized by HFTP as the best student chapter nationally.

“It was a very exciting moment because it was the first time that USFSM had won a student-chapter award,” said graduate student Frida Bahja, who was on hand for the awards presentation Oct. 19-22 at the HFTP Annual Convention at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Four other hospitality students, a finance student and student advisor Dr. Katerina Berezina also made the trip.

“When they called our names we all stood up and everybody was recognized. That was nice,” Bahja said.

Dr. Pat Moreo, dean of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, said of the club’s achievement: “This is the kind of dedication and work that is leading us to the path of excellence in our College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership. The students are at the heart of our efforts.”

HFTP, a global organization, consists of more than 5,000 members and dozens of college chapters nationally. Chapters competing for Student Chapter of the Year were judged on their ability to recruit and retain members, hold monthly meetings, attend HFTP global and adult chapter events, and engage with communities. USFSM’s 77-member chapter with its eight officers tipped the scales for having the most active and engaged student organization.

“This is an outstanding achievement for our students and a great testament to their work,” Dr. Berezina said. “I am very fortunate to work with this exceptional group of students, and I think this award motivated and encouraged them to do more great things for their chapter, USFSM, the hospitality industry and the community.”

Chapter meetings often feature guest speakers such as Mike Quillen, co-owner of Gecko’s Grill & Pub, and the chapter frequently sponsors trips to conferences such as the National Restaurant Association Show 2016 annual convention, held in Chicago last May. The chapter is closely allied with the Manasota chapter of HFTP and the two cooperate on meetings, guest presentations and fundraising for trips.

“I don’t think we could have done this without support of the Manasota chapter,” said Dr. Berezina, who also praised the students.

Graduate student and HFTP student member Michael Bonn said it’s easy to become engaged because the chapter is “like a family.”

“I really enjoy the camaraderie,” he said. “Everybody there wants to be there. It’s an organization where people are helping people.”

Bonn served as a guest blogger for the 2016 HFTP convention. Guest bloggers are tasked with writing posts about their experiences before, during and after the conference.

The USFSM group meets monthly, but sometimes gets together weekly at the Information Commons area on the second floor of the USFSM campus building. Members discuss potential speakers, upcoming trips and fundraising strategies. The HFTP experience helps students develop their leadership skills by planning activities and serving as chapter officers.

Bahja, who became chapter president in August, said the trips have enabled her to mingle with hospitality executives, keep current of trends and hear from notable industry leaders such as Michael Levie, founder and chief operations officer of citizenM Hotels, which is making waves for its “affordable luxury” brand. Levie gave a talk at last month’s HFTP convention.

“It’s nice to be part of this group,” Bahja said. “We meet in a nice environment where you can feel you are supported and feel the passion that everybody shares. It motivates you and everybody can feel the positive energy.

“We invite students from all majors to join us,” she added. “If you are studying business, you may find your home in the hospitality industry, and if you are just curious about this industry, we will be glad to show you what it has to offer. We welcome everyone.”

The USFSM HFTP student chapter invites interested students to its next session of the Open Doors Academy, a speaker series created to connect students with the hospitality industry. The next session is scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 4 p.m. at Room B-226 at USFSM. Guest speakers from Aloft Sarasota will discuss the experience of opening the new hotel.

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