The Washington, D.C., area, headquarters of major corporations, associations, and other nonprofits in the tourism industry, offers a unique learning experience and a wide range of employment options to Virginia Tech students enrolled in the Pamplin College of Business master of science in business administration/hospitality and tourism management program in the National Capital Region.
“Moving the program two years ago from Blacksburg to the National Capital Region allowed us to expand our already top-tier teaching and research faculty to include seasoned industry professionals, both as adjunct faculty and as guest lecturers,” said Mahmood Khan, professor and program director.
Khan said that outstanding Hokie alumni in the region are also a great asset for the program.
“They are among those who teach and guest lecture, provide real-time data and issues for case studies, and form a robust network to help our graduates find jobs," Khan said.
The 30-hour, yearlong master’s degree has three concentrations: business analytics and revenue management, international hospitality and tourism strategy, and entrepreneurship in hospitality and tourism management. Evening, weekend, and some online options allow for students’ work schedules.
The program also offers specialized certificates in each of these three focal areas that students can earn in one semester. Pamplin accepts applications on a rolling basis for either option.
“Because Pamplin’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management ranks No. 2 nationally and No. 6 in the world, it is not that surprising that this degree has attracted students from all over the world,” said Nancy McGehee, professor and department head. McGehee returned recently from China, where she met with university officials in Beijing, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macau to create pathways for their best students to come to the Washington, D.C., area for the program.
The majority of the students in the program are professionals looking to hone or acquire skills that will help them advance their current career path or start something new, Khan said.
The 20 students in the fall 2017 class represent eight different countries and a cross section of the industry, from hotels to food services to retirement homes.
Kayla Alemnji Asonganyi, of Springfield, Virginia, is on track to graduate in December 2017. She earned an undergraduate degree in hospitality and tourism management from Florida International University in 2014 and was a server in the dining room at the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner when she joined the program.
“After two years, I felt like it was the right time for me to continue with my studies,” said Asonganyi, who learned about Virginia Tech’s program when she drove her mother, Bellah Alem, of Springfield, Virginia, to a meeting with Khan at the Northern Virginia Center. She decided at the last minute to sit in on the meeting. As a result, both mother and daughter enrolled in the program.
“The reputation of Virginia Tech was a huge reason I decided to enroll,” said Asonganyi. “And the fact that the location was convenient to both home and work was a big plus, too.”
A few months after joining the program, the Ritz Carlton transferred her to the position of front desk agent. Within eight months, Asonganyi not only mastered front office operations, but took on additional responsibility in training new hires and assisting as rooms controller, according to Andrew Kim, executive assistant manager of rooms.
“Because of her strong drive and passion, ability to adapt and lead a team, consistently calm and professional demeanor, and increasing skill set, she was promoted to overnight front office supervisor,” Kim said.
Asonganyi credits the program.
“The most important things I have learned while in this program are how to be an effective leader and how to be more analytic. And I also have a better understanding of working with people,” Asonganyi said.
Her mother, a certified nursing assistant in a local retirement home, has a dream of starting a catering business in her native Cameroon, Africa. Asonganyi said that the marketing strategy she is learning in the Virginia Tech program — coupled with the culinary courses she is taking at Northern Virginia Community College — is helping her toward that goal.
Another student in the program, Tsaiyu Hsu, of Fairfax, Virginia, arrived in the United States from Taiwan less than a year ago.
“The professors are all very helpful and enthusiastic,” said Hsu, who has held various positions with airlines and in hotels over the past six years. “They have not only assisted me in gaining solid knowledge but have also guided me on how to bring theories to the market. I have already obtained much more from the program than I expected.”
Recently, Hsu received the NENA Promise Scholarship from the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education. Hsu said that after she graduates from the master of science in business administration/hospitality and tourism management progam, she is planning to apply to the evening MBA program. These combined degrees, she said, will help her pursue her long-term career goal of becoming a service evaluation consultant in the hospitality and tourism industry.
A recent graduate of the program, Kumaran Ravi, of Takoma Park, Maryland, had worked for several international hotel chains and the Carnival Cruise line when he visited friends in Maryland, decided he liked the area, and — with an eye toward entrepreneurship — began a search for graduate programs in hospitality. The search landed him at Virginia Tech. He now owns and manages Chennai Express, in Chantilly.
“Hearing from industry executives and case studies provided me with a lot of insights on how to run a business,” Ravi said. “But above all, the program, and especially Dr. Khan, gave me the confidence I needed to open and manage my own restaurant.”