Public Affairs

CSU Hospitality and Tourism: Working to Keep California America's Destination for Play

July 19, 2010
By Elizabeth Chapin

With its world-class attractions, parks, restaurants and hotels, California is America’s number one travel destination. The California State University supplies the leaders of the industries that keep California tourism unsurpassed.

In fact, the CSU conferred 64 percent of the tourism degrees earned in the state last year. With practice-focused programs and the state’s only Parks, Recreation and Leisure degree, the CSU strengthens an industry that has always worked for California. The tourism industry plays a vital role in California’s economy. Despite the current economic slump, the California Travel and Tourism Commission reports that travel spending in the state supported 881,000 jobs and generated $87.7 billion last year alone.

And the future still looks bright for hospitality graduates: the industry continues to grow. Last year, hospitality and recreation were California’s fourth and sixth fastest growing industries by employment.

Hospitality leaders must now hold a degree to competitively enter the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that supervisory and professional positions in hospitality usually require a bachelor’s degree, even moreso as business structure and technology become more complex.

However, as hospitality positions often require special skills, experience is also essential. Hospitality graduates get plenty of real world experience at the CSU - giving them the skills needed to immediately contribute to the industry.

Cal Poly Pomona’s learn-by-doing approach is demonstrated in learning programs such as the Collins College of Hospitality Management’s Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch. The student-run restaurant, which is perched atop one of the university's hills, is a working fine-dining establishment.

A student prepares a gourmet meal in the Restaurant's kitchenThroughout the semester, hospitality management students in the challenging class operate lunch and dinner at the restaurant. They must rotate weekly through various positions in order to learn every role. So every week, roles are switched – a student might be the reservations manager
one week and a line cook
the next.

This hands-on practice is an ideal way to quickly understand all facets of the restaurant business. By the end of a rotation week, the students have the restaurant running like a well-oiled machine.

Bolstered by such hands-on experience, students quickly learn the ropes and go away with both knowledge and skills, making them better prepared to confidently manage and run similar operations outside the classroom.

Melissa Leong made that transition when her experience at San Jose State helped her get her foot in the door at an exclusive resort. Leong landed a supervisory position at Pebble Beach Resorts two weeks before she graduated.

In her junior and senior year, Leong interned at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, one of the PGA’s most celebrated events. Soon after, the resort offered her a full-time position.

Leong was part of SJSU’s Special Event Management Team, which partners hospitality students with Pebble Beach Resorts. The team spends the year preparing for the event, during which they'll assist with hospitality duties.

kWorking directly with Pebble Beach representatives, Leong helped manage, plan, coordinate, and oversee hospitality duties at the tournament. And everything had to be up to par: matching Pebble Beach's impeccable hospitality standards.

“It was definitely the most important experience I got in college," Leong says.

Leong says it improved her skills as a manager and gave her a better understanding of how a world-class resort operates.

"If it wasn't for the program, I would probably have a degree and no idea what I really wanted to do,” Leong said, “Now I have a path, and the resources I need to strengthen my skills."

Leong's story is only one of the hundreds of CSU graduates entering California's exceptional hospitality industry.
For more stories of success and information on the CSU’s hospitality programs and initiative, please visit