Raised in a culture rooted in hospitality, Turkish-born Ozgur Ozdemir always envisioned himself climbing the hospitality industry’s corporate ladder. But inspiration from one influential professor led the budding professional to a different calling: higher education. He teaches accounting and finance in the Harrah College of Hospitality.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Istanbul, which is the biggest city in Turkey, and then I moved to the capital, Ankara, for my undergrad. It was a typical urban lifestyle, but you had to interact with people a lot more than you do in the United States. Here, you can go to school or work and then drive home without speaking to anyone. There, you typically take public transportation and are exposed to the city and its people more.
Why did you come to UNLV?
I wanted to be in Las Vegas because it’s important to be here if you’re in the hospitality industry. The Hospitality College has a lot of good relationships and resources that you can’t get anywhere else. It was also a great opportunity for me to join a world-known hospitality college. Plus, I really enjoy the weather in Las Vegas. The winters are long and cold in Turkey, so I don’t have to worry about that here.
What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?
It’s very diverse here. I have students from all over the United States and all over the world. In addition to ethnicity, the students are also diverse in age, which makes them a little more mature than the students I’ve typically taught in the past. A lot of them know what they need in terms of their education, so I think that enhances their learning.
What inspired you to get into your field?
In Turkey, the people are really hospitable. It’s a quality that’s really praised within the culture. I started working in restaurants in high school, and I genuinely enjoyed serving people. I liked to see them happy, and that was my motivation. Now, I’m serving my students as their teacher. I enjoy seeing their appreciation for their education.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
For teaching, the biggest challenge is balancing the needs of different students. It gets a little difficult when designing the courses. The students shouldn’t feel lost or behind, but they should also feel like they’re getting something out of the class. As for the industry, the challenge is the ever-changing political and economic risks and the uncertainty in tourism.
Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.
Moving back to the U.S. was a risk. My wife and I had a decent, stable life in Turkey; however, we both wanted to do more in life, which is why we applied for jobs in different countries. We already knew what life was like in the U.S., so we decided to come back. It seems a little crazy, now that I think about it.
If you couldn't work in your current field, what career might you like to pursue?
My original plan was to get my master’s and work in the corporate world. However, I’m really keen on research and enjoy helping students, so I took my professors’ advice and got my Ph.D. to teach. If I didn’t take that route, I think I would be a lawyer. I discovered later in life that I really like corporate law, and to be honest, I’m still considering a law degree.
What is your proudest moment of your life?
I think when I graduated from the Bilkent University (in Turkey) and was ranked first in my class. I got my award and degree in front of all my family and friends. I was really proud.
Who is your hero or inspiration?
I have a colleague, Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu, who is a professor at University of South Florida. He was my professor in Turkey, and he’s been my mentor for years now. He’s my inspiration for research and teaching.
Any tips for success?
Be disciplined in your time, your priorities, and what you want to do you in your life. Work hard and be smart in your planning.
Pastimes or hobbies?
I like running, especially long distance, and I definitely like reading. My wife and I also enjoy watching international movies.