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Impressions Magazine

ECU’s Hospitality Management Program Celebrates its 25th Birthday

05/07/2012 11:08 ● By Kathryn

In 2009, the former home economics kitchens in the Rivers Building at ECU were renovated into a state-of-the-art culinary teaching lab, thanks to a $200,000 gift from the Golden Corral Corporation.

The East Carolina University Department of Hospitality Management is celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2012. To have some fun with this milestone, students and faculty have teamed up with Biltmore Estate’s Catering to put on the Department’s First Annual Moveable Feast.

In the spirit of the industry itself, one student described the event this way: “The feast will be hosted outside the majestic Yankee Hall Plantation on a special night in April. Guests will enjoy the beautiful eastern Carolina sunset as they wine and dine. A cocktail hour will feature hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and a live jazz band—all under the trees and illuminated by candlelight. A long feasting table will be located under the stars near an open-air tent.” 

Besides students and faculty, the Feast is planned for industry notables, the Department’s very active advisory board, and honored guests.

With the global rise of the hospitality and tourism industry, the Department of Hospitality Management has come a long way from its beginning in 1987. Once combined with the nutrition and dietetics, hospitality management is now a stand-alone program with nearly 450 students, the largest department of its kind in North Carolina and one of the largest in the Southeast.

Hospitality management professor Dori Dennison has been with the program since 1988. She recalls that there were only three students in the first graduating class of hospitality management students in 1989.  She said, “The program has grown as industry demand has grown. Just think about how the many more restaurants and hotels there are now than twenty-five years ago. I also think the program has grown because of our dedicated faculty. The faculty is invested in student success.”

Today, students can complete both the bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and an MBA with a hospitality management option in only five years—a unique opportunity in the state and in Southeast. Concentrations include food and beverage management, lodging management, and meeting and convention management. 

Hospitality management students are in demand by industry recruiters and are placed in management positions across the country with companies such as Aramark, Hyatt, Westin, Marriott, Hilton Golden Corral, and Ruby Tuesday. Many alumni are entrepreneurs who have started their own food and beverage, lodging, or events enterprises. 

Perry Dunbar, a 1998 hospitality management graduate, is the director of global operations implementation for Marriott International. Perry, who leads a team that pilots and implements programs, products, and services for Marriott, said, “It’s been great to watch the program grow since I was student. The worldwide economic downturn has affected the industry in some countries, but generally, hospitality and tourism are growing globally. The industry offers unlimited potential for those who use their imagination and work hard.”

Under the chairmanship of Dr. Robert O’Halloran, the Department has made great strides in recent years. With a $200,000 gift from the Golden Corral Corporation, ECU renovated the former home economics kitchens in the Rivers Building into a state-of-the-art culinary teaching lab in 2009. The lab is a keystone in educating potential restaurant, hotel, events, and tourism leaders in “back of the house” food and beverage operations.

In 2009, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide (WPW), Inc. contributed to the professional atmosphere of the ECU Golden Corral Culinary Center by donating 300 pieces of its professional grade cookware to the program. 

The Department’s faculty has wide ranging practical experience, and they routinely take on research projects for the industry. For example, in 2009, Professor Alleah Crawford and her students conducted studies with Terry Bragg, executive director of the USS North Carolina in Wilmington, N.C., to see if the iconic tourism attraction could feasibly offer tourists an overnight camping experience. Bragg said, “The project was more than a hypothetical exercise for the students. We are using their research and recommendations in our planning.”

Noteworthy also, hospitality management professor Cynthia Deale has served as president of the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education; and Professor George Fenich was selected by Meeting Professionals International to serve on the Global Volunteer Leadership Team.

The future of the Department of Hospitality Management is bright. In this anniversary year, the Department expects to change its name to the School of Hospitality Leadership. 

According to Robert O’Halloran, the name change and change to school status will help the program grow in student numbers and in faculty retention and recruitment. “The new school will place even greater emphasis on entrepreneurial leadership and innovation,” he said. The name change has been approved at ECU and is awaiting approval by the UNC Board of Governors.

Plans are also being considering for a new building that will include a hotel and conference center near the university to offer students further real-world experience. 

For more information on the East Carolina University Department of Hospitality Management or the Department’s First Annual Moveable Feast, please call 252-737-1603, email or visit

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