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“How do we get people back?” STHM students showcase industrial knowledge in capstone

By: Dylan Coyle
First Published: April 5, 2021
Topics: Faculty, Feature Story, In the News, Research, STHM School, Tourism & Hospitality

Over the past year, there is perhaps no school at Temple University that has been impacted more than the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management in relation to the industries that it serves. This can present challenging scenarios for graduates, but students in the tourism and hospitality management capstone course have pivoted in this new reality and persevered in the face of this challenge.

Faculty members Ben Altschuler and Christine Cleaver led the fall semester’s group of 40 students in the capstone course. They structured the course to revolve around three pillars: blogging, debating and podcasting.

“Students looked at their blog posts from different elements within tourism, hospitality and events,” said Altschuler, an assistant professor and academic director of the Master of Science in Travel and Tourism Program. “We also had them look at it from local, national and international levels, and we asked them to portray how we can better approach these topics within STHM.”

They called the debates “topic battles” where students formed groups and selected predetermined topics to argue. Based upon their argument quality, as rated by both Altschuler and Cleaver and their peers, their podcast topic was then chosen. The students’ interests and careers were not confined to a single topic; some were interested in event management, while others planned to pursue a career in hotel planning. 

Each group interviewed an expert in their field of research for their podcast episode. One of those topics was virtual reality.

“Prior to COVID-19, I think there were some thoughts about how to incorporate virtual reality into the world’s tourism and hospitality events,” Altschuler said. “It wasn’t seen as being essential because we could just get people to these destinations, to the hotels, to the events. That’s what made virtual reality fun.”

Following the initial reaction to the pandemic, Altschuler said that the industry has had to reevaluate virtual reality’s role.

“Until this thing gets better and even for a while after it gets better, how do we get people back,” he asked. “I don’t know if any experience ever truly equals actually experiencing something in real life, but we’ve had to think about what ways we can get people involved in some of that, something similar to the real experience when we actually can’t get them there.”

Olivia Dan (STHM ‘21, tourism and hospitality management), whose group centered its podcast topic on how restaurants have fared following COVID-19’s societal introduction, said that the class helped refine her skills and learnt topics over the years.

“We talked a lot about how COVID affected us and how it will affect us in the future,” she said. “The class was extremely helpful in preparing me through more industrial insight and research as well as the current and upcoming work climate.”

Christina Concilio’s (STHM ‘21, tourism and hospitality management) group created its episode on diversity and inclusive practices. She shared many of the same thoughts on the class as Dan had.

“We had a lot of group work, which is really helpful to us because the tourism hospitality industry is such a collaborative field,” Concilio said. “Being able to work with a group the whole semester, form a team dynamic and power through struggles really helped prepare us for work.”

Student groups were asked to create podcasts that were 15 to 20 minutes long, but they exceeded that goal with episodes that were at least 30 minutes long.

“The way they scripted this out was incredible,” Altschuler said. “The level of professionalism that they really put towards this… This could be something these students could give to a potential employer showing their abilities. These students were so incredibly well-versed that it was just wonderful to see them be able to switch gears and kind of work with what the experts provided them.”

While Cleaver will be leading this semester’s capstone without Altschuler’s assistance, he can’t help but look back fondly on his students’ work.

“It was excellent. Just thinking about it right now, it makes me very happy that they were able to pull this off.”