'Hospitality Lab' Students Share Fresh Perspectives

Graduate student Shekinah Hoffman addresses an audience of hospitality professionals during Hospitality Lab's "Pitch Night."
Instructor Robert Rippee (center) evaluates presentations.
Jul. 19, 2016

by Joyce Gorsuch

This past spring the Harrah Hotel College, along with the Hospitality Lab in the International Gaming Institute (IGI), launched new hospitality innovation courses designed to help students address challenges facing the hospitality industry.

Shekinah Hoffman, who this spring was earning an MS degree in Hotel Administration, saw the graduate-level Hospitality Innovation (HOA 555) course as an opportunity to explore the entrepreneurial side of gaming.

 “HOA 555 is the most unique class I’ve ever taken,” says Hoffman, who went on to say she was glad to be cutting her entrepreneurial teeth in the classroom, rather than in the marketplace.

The classroom experience has also acquainted Hoffman with a robust community—at UNLV, and in Las Vegas in general—that helps students go on to innovate after they finish their studies. Each of the eight groups in Hoffman’s class had its own industry mentor. Hoffman’s group had regular access to a C-level facilities executive at the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

“I asked industry executives about chokeholds they face at their organizations, and I practiced the art of pitching,” says Hoffman.

She and other students rose to the challenge of generating new ideas to address those bottlenecks. To come up with problem-solving concepts, they tapped into the interdisciplinary diversity among group members.

In addition to two hotel administration majors, Hoffman’s group included students who were passionate about architecture and IT. On a personal level, too, Hoffman gained valuable perspective—in the form of a more nuanced understanding of her generation.

“I learned so much from other group members,” says Hoffman. “I saw amazing creativity in my (Millennial) generation, and I saw beyond the two-dimensional descriptions I’ve heard people use, such as ‘selfish’ and ‘tech-addicted.’”

The Millennial-friendly course environment exists partly by design, according to course Instructor Robert Rippee, who calls the courses a mash-up of academics, entrepreneurship, and problem solving.

“In hospitality this mix of perspectives offers a huge area of opportunity,” says Rippee. “The big brands are so busy with day-to-day operations that they don’t have the bandwidth to think about what might happen five to ten years from now.”

That’s where Rippee’s students can help. Students bring freshness because they tend to be unencumbered by established ways of doing things; they also embrace disruptive innovations, looking to role models such as Steve Jobs, Clayton Christiansen, and others.

Several of Rippee’s students have recently submitted patent applications for new mobile apps, ideas for applying existing technology in innovative ways, and design concepts for Millennials-friendly guest rooms.