Neon lights flickered among booths and trees. Carnival rides zoomed and twirled, filling the air with laughter and squeals of delight. A celebratory parade featuring embellished golf carts and UNLV’s marching band added to the festive environment as it made its way past crowds of Rebels.
More than 5,000 UNLV students reveled together at the fall 2021 Rebel Homecoming Festival, the campus’s first big face-to-face gathering since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a time for students and alumni to not only celebrate their collective Rebel pride but also a return to near normalcy.
Homecoming brought a new meaning to coming home.
“The event was surreal,” said hospitality senior Cheyne Sauceda. “My favorite part was just seeing people’s faces. It was so exciting and heartwarming to finally bring everyone together.”
Sauceda was one of 24 students charged with planning the Hospitality College’s booth at the homecoming festival. With the help of event sponsors, students decorated the space with a photo booth, roulette wheel, rainbow slinkies, and a neon sign nodding to the psychedelic Life is Beautiful festival.
Each semester, event instructor Ian Seidenberg guides teams of hospitality seniors through the event-planning process as part of their final culminating experience class. Rebels are required to plan, prepare, and execute an event from start to finish, bridging both theoretical and practical application of their industry knowledge and skills.
“I treat my (students) as if they are my colleagues out in the real world,” Seidenberg said. “We tackled homecoming like it was a professional event, and we planned everything as a team.”
The college encourages students to be thought leaders as they reimagine how the event industry will operate in a post-COVID world. This includes asking big questions, such as “How can people safely come together?” and “How can we best serve customers in this environment?”
A part-time teacher and working professional, Seidenberg understands the event industry is changing, noting that clients have new expectations regarding attention to detail, cleanliness, and safety. He also acknowledges that while virtual events proved to be a safe alternative throughout the pandemic, it’s human nature to want to socialize and share experiences.
“Some hybrid event components are here to stay, but nothing replaces live interaction,” Seidenberg said. “We now have to consider how to make things accessible while accommodating everyone in a space where they feel safe. That’s the challenge.”
As part of an industry that has always been shaped by global events and trends, the Hospitality College is uniquely positioned to address changes in customer expectations through its research and coursework. As Sauceda noted, challenging students to find solutions to industry problems has long been the program’s foundation.
“Our professors constantly remind us to prepare for anything that possibly can go wrong, and the pandemic has been the most extreme version of that,” she said. “We have to be significantly more adaptable than we ever thought, but that’s what will make us the best in the industry and in our careers.”
That kind of adaptability will be key as the hospitality industry navigates a post-pandemic world. And while a lot of uncertainty lies ahead, there’s one thing the industry can count on: Whatever the challenge, Hospitality Rebels will be ready to respond.