School of Hospitality Administration Celebrates 40th Anniversary amid a Time of Rapid Change

Photo taken from behind students in an auditorium attending the SHA Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, with Katie Potter, president and chief executive officer of Five Star Senior Living, and Arun Upneja, dean of SHA, who are sitting at the front of the room on stage.

A recent installment of the SHA Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, with Katie Potter (on dais, left), president and chief executive officer of Five Star Senior Living, and Arun Upneja, dean of SHA. Photo by David Fox photography, courtesy of BU School of Hospitality Administration


School of Hospitality Administration Celebrates 40th Anniversary amid a Time of Rapid Change

Coping with pandemic, widening the definition of hospitality

December 13, 2021
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The hospitality industry was already changing fast before COVID-19, but as BU’s School of Hospitality Administration celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, the pandemic has greatly accelerated that process.

“At SHA we are at the leading edge of these changes,” says Arun Upneja, the school’s dean. During the pandemic, “we were plotting new degrees, new programs, new concentrations. We used that time to plan the future.”

Pre-pandemic change included the rise of technology and the sharing economy (AirBnB, Uber), a more demanding clientele used to having it their way (Baby Boomers, come on down!), and a new focus on diversity and sustainability. Then the pandemic drastically slashed business for hotels and airlines for many months, forced restaurants to switch to takeout and sidewalk dining, and even changed the relationship between frontline employees and their jobs. 

As society gets vaccinated and works its way back toward normal, the hospitality industry needs fresh ideas and new skills—stat. And SHA students need a kind of education that would have been unimaginable to the 20 undergraduates who started classes back in 1981, when the school was founded within Metropolitan College.

Portrait of Arun Upneja, dean of SHA, wearing a blue button down and a red tie. He smiles, wears glasses with black frames and sits with his hands folded in his lap.
Upneja says any business where human interactions are an important component could be considered part of the hospitality industry. Photo by Janice Checchio

The current 250 undergraduates and 72 grad students need more than the grounding in restaurant and hotel operations that has already helped SHA take its place among the top hospitality schools in the country. And Upneja and his team are determined to provide it. As one example, they’ve added half a dozen new concentrations to the Master of Management in Hospitality program since the start of the pandemic, including digital marketing, innovation and entrepreneurship, and senior living.

The year’s culminating event—the annual Hospitality Leadership Summit at the Hotel Commonwealth in April 2022—is more about where SHA is going than where it has been. The daylong summit will, it is hoped, be held in person for the first time since 2019. The 2020 event, in the early days of the pandemic, was canceled entirely, but the 2021 summit, held virtually, drew 500 log-ins.

The 2022 Summit will feature TED Talk–style presentations from leaders of innovative companies charting new avenues for hospitality, companies, and concepts that didn’t even exist a decade ago, among them Selina Inc., a global network of co-living and housing options for “digital nomads”; the “ghost kitchen” company REEF Technology, which “transforms open spaces into multipurpose places that create jobs and bring new goods, services, and experiences to your neighborhood”; and Toast, the cloud-based restaurant management system used in thousands of businesses nationwide.

The speakers will include several SHA alums, including: Daniel Iannucci (SHA’13), Toast mid-market team leader; Jared Goldberg (SHA’20), REEF senior director of finance and operations; and Kristen Coe Hitchcock (SHA’08), operations manager at Sonder Inc., a boutique manager of short-term rentals in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. The event will be livestreamed, and this year, Leora Lanz (COM’87), SHA assistant dean for academic affairs, a professor of the practice, and faculty chair of the Master of Management in Hospitality program, says she’s turning over more of the organizing to students.

“If we didn’t start thinking differently, then we learned nothing from the last two years,” Lanz says. “We are expanding the breadth of what we consider hospitality.”

An SHA hallmark throughout the decades has been strong ties to leaders in the field, alumni among them. This year’s Dean’s Distinguished Speakers lineup included the CEO of Panera Bread, the president and CEO of Five Star Senior Living, the president of Marriott International, and the president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. Over spring break, about 35 master’s students will spend four days in New York at famed restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, participating in intensive sessions with his managers in real estate, marketing, and human resources. 

Since its founding, the school has focused on educating students to be entry-level managers in the traditional hospitality industry—hotels, restaurants, and food service. “But eight or nine years ago, we started feeling that was very constraining,” Upneja says. “We think hotels, restaurants, food service, but the students were going into real estate, asset management, marketing, and digital marketing. 

“Really, any business where human interactions are an important component, that’s hospitality,” Upneja says.

Really any business where human interactions are an important component, that’s hospitality.
—Arun Upneja

Selling microprocessors, maybe not so much, as that’s mainly about chip speeds. But luxury consumer retail requires hospitality skills, for sure, as do sports venues and franchises. No one wants to go to a nursing home, but a luxury senior living community…

Even a hospital is in part a hospitality business, Upneja says. “There’s a front desk, reception, room service. Add some healthcare to a hotel and it becomes a hospital,” he says with a smile. “I am exaggerating a little. But how you are treated and how you feel about it has a bearing on how well you may get.”

Of course, in the short term, the industry needs to find its way back from the seismic disruptions of the coronavirus, as vaccines make people more comfortable with traveling and dining out again. 

“Going without something always clarifies how much that ‘something’ means to you,” says Taylor Peyton, an SHA assistant professor of leadership and workplace psychology. “Being without fully functioning hospitality establishments for so long has clarified for many of us how much we miss interacting socially, and how much the hospitality industry is the backbone supporting that.” 

Measuring progress and looking for paths ahead are functions of research, which wasn’t even part of SHA’s approach less than a decade ago. 

“The research that we produce at SHA focuses on what we call ‘human experience design,’” says Makarand Mody, an SHA associate professor of hospitality marketing and the school’s first director of research. “It is at the cutting-edge of how hospitality can contribute to people’s well-being, be they consumers, employees, or anyone who interacts with this reimagined hospitality landscape. 

“I am also now involved with the Human Flourishing group here at BU and the Center for Innovation in Social Science,” Mody says. Through them, he is “collaborating with researchers in other areas such as sociology, psychology, and medicine,” he says, “to look at the role that hospitality plays in society today and how it contributes to people living their best lives.”

Diversity will also be an important focus moving forward. Upneja knows the industry needs to increase enrollment of African American, Latinx, and indigenous students. He has been active in a national push to increase faculty diversity in the field, which is one way to help those students feel that hospitality is for them.

The dean says SHA is an example of the progress the University has made across the board in the last two decades, from forward-looking research to alumni making an impact.

“We have to match our ambitions with where the University is heading. This is our time to take off.” 

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School of Hospitality Administration Celebrates 40th Anniversary amid a Time of Rapid Change

  • Joel Brown

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