Less than two years ago, Kyle Harris was a music major
unsure about his career prospects. Now, at age 23, he’s a banquet supervisor at the
Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers in downtown Chicago. And he has his sights
set on working in Scotland and owning a string of restaurants.
Harris (BUS ’15) says his transformation would have never
happened without DePaul’s University’s School of Hospitality Leadership and the
lessons he learned taking global business study seminars led by Assistant Professors
Nick and Lisa Thomas.
“Without the Hospitality Leadership program, I wouldn’t be
as successful as I am or have the opportunity for success that I see down the
road,” says Harris. “Professors Nick and Lisa put me on the right path, to meet
the right people and to get the right experience. I never would have been able
to do that without this program.”
Lisa Thomas (bottom row, far right) and her husband Nick Thomas (back row ,far right)
use the world as their classroom for DePaul's hospitality program.
Professors Are Also Hospitality Industry Leaders
Harris’ s words are exactly what Nick and Lisa Thomas long to
hear from their students.
Both longtime industry professionals, Nick and Lisa, who are
married, recently began teaching full-time at DePaul’s School of Hospitality
Leadership housed within the Driehaus College of Business.
Nick Thomas spent more than a decade working in lodging and gaming
industry in Las Vegas and California. Lisa Thomas has worked in sales, marketing and event
management positions in the cruise and resort industries. Both earned their PhDs in hospitality administration from the University of
Nevada Las Vegas. Both have
been consultants to industry and worked on research within the hospitality
field. Recently the couple taught in Singapore.
“This program is a very good fit for Lisa and me,” says Nick
Thomas, who is also the new Director of Center for Hospitality Research &
Education at the college.
“Being in Chicago, the program is like a large, living
laboratory for hospitality,” he says. “Here, we’re focused on preparing
students to work in the industry, as well as truly being a partner to industry
in a variety of ways, including providing research.”
The World as a
A key part of this industry-based learning approach is the
business culture immersion trips the Thomases lead to Asia. These
trips help DePaul students to not only understand different cultures but also
the geographic operational differences within the hospitality industry. The Asia program takes students to Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and Shanghai. The School of Hospitality Leadership hosts business seminars in the European cities of Switzerland and Paris as well.
Students tour both luxury and boutique hotels and meet hotel
operators, managers, restaurateurs and servers and other members of the
hospitality industry within those cities. Lisa Thomas said students learn about
the culture of customers from Asia, who also tour the United States, and they learn how culture influences a hotel’s
For example, when Harris visited a boutique hotel in Hong
Kong he noticed none of the rooms had wired telephones in them. Instead, each
had an iPhone on a docking station. The mobile phone allows tourists to make
local calls without worrying about international charges.
Lisa Thomas says seeing these real-world cultural
differences in hospitality operations allows DePaul students to better
understand an increasingly global industry.
“We’re now on a competitive world stage when it comes
hospitality,” says Lisa. “Event managers decide whether they’re going to have
their annual conference in Chicago, Las Vegas or in Singapore or Shanghai.
Students need to be prepared to serve customers from all over the world.”
Learning from Abroad
Seeing the iPhones in the rooms, bathrooms with windows that
feature a lake view, lobbies perfectly immaculate and designed for better flow,
were all operational touches that made an impression on Harris. He said it’s
little operational differences such as these that he takes back with him to his
job in Chicago.
“What I learned abroad helps me in my job every day,” says
Harris. “I can serve my international customers better and offer a different
level of service that others can’t match.”
In addition to learning the culture of many of their future
customers and about operational differences within the global industry, Lisa
Thomas says the trips help to broad widen students’ perspectives about working
within the industry.
“Many students are afraid to go to Asia, they’re afraid of
what they might encounter,” Lisa says. “But these trips give them a safe space
to learn and for some students it ignites a passion in them for really thinking
outside the box when it comes to searching for a company or occupation or a
It has for Harris, who while on a hospitality trip to Europe
went to Scotland and fell in love with the country.
“I never would have thought about working there if it hadn’t
been for that trip,” Harris says. “It’s opened up a whole new world for me.”
Find out more about the School
of Hospitality Leadership.
Learn more about the BS
in Business, Hospitality Leadership major concentration.
Learn more about the graduate
programs in Hospitality Leadership including the MBA
Hospitality Leadership concentration, the MS
in Hospitality Leadership and Operational Performance.