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Georgia Center provides a real-world lab for HFIM students

On the job experience speaks volumes for students entering hospitality industry

Kensie Poor

September 11, 2023

John Salazar, left, talks with one of his students, Matthew Harrington, as he works his shift at the front desk of the Georgia Center Hotel and Conference Center. Photographer Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA.

The Hospitality and Food Industry Management (HFIM) Program at UGA started in 2019 and has been collaborating with the Georgia Center ever since. It is the university’s second-fastest growing major and has grown more than three times in size since its inception, according to the CAES Newswire. The Georgia Center offers a real-life laboratory for students to gain practical experience in various aspects of the hospitality industry, preparing them for over 400,000 travel and tourism positions throughout the state.

John Salazar, UGA professor and director of the HFIM program, recently said, “When we think of the hospitality industry, I like to think of it as an ecosystem. It’s not only hotels and restaurants but resorts, convention centers, and the airline industry. It is the broader service sector and the context of travel and tourism. There are so many opportunities in the hospitality sector. And our state offers such a broad set of opportunities for those that are really interested in the hospitality business.”

HFIM students gain hands-on experience at Georgia Center, setting them apart from others and helping them land positions at top hospitality venues. It allows exploration of the industry and helps clarify career paths.

Jodie Henderson, a third-year HFIM student, is a wonderful example of the possibilities of this valuable learning experience. She has gained confidence through her work as an HR intern and recently moved into an internship with the Sales & Events Management division. She said, “I’m on my third internship now, and the benefits of having those experiences make me confident in securing a position in the industry after graduation.”

These experiences come from the 400 internship hours HFIM students must log for their program, and the Georgia Center is the ideal space to do just so.
Jacob Johnson and Matthew Harrington, two recent HFIM graduates, gained hands-on experience working here and were so successful that they were hired into full-time positions at the Georgia Center after graduation. They can now mentor undergraduates coming up through the program and contribute to its upward trajectory.

“The Georgia Center has a mentorship mentality to its management training. It’s less about procedural matters and more about absorbing other managers’ wisdom throughout their years of experience,” says Harrington, front desk supervisor. He added, “The customer reflects every part of the Georgia Center in their experience. Through work experience and training, you discover that the little things we do support the collective mission here. It goes beyond the individual.”

The Georgia Center welcomes a new class of HFIM interns this fall. Joining Jodie in SEM are Hannah Karshna and Katherine Brumley. William Trotman is joining HR. Food and Beverage continues to employ Ashleigh Lang, Sarah Johnson, and Brianna Roberts. Chao Chen-Andrew will also join this team. Jae Shin-James and Sophie Escobedo begin work with the Hotel division.

The Georgia Center is proud to offer this opportunity to these promising young professionals and look forward to being such an important part of their journey.