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 Classroom

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 operations.

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 location.”

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.​