Bobbie Barnes was raised in the warm glow of Vegas hospitality, shadowing her father, a stagehand for major shows on the Strip.
“My whole life was in casinos,” Barnes said. “And I loved everything about it.”
As soon as she could, Barnes jumped into a job in the industry and became a leader in human resources over the course of 20 years at major Strip properties. Along the way, she earned three degrees from UNLV, including a doctorate in workforce development and organizational leadership.
In 2007, Barnes brought her expertise back to UNLV to teach in the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality. She also ran the college’s Bob Boughner Career Center until 2019.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Barnes and her colleagues had to pivot quickly from in-person teaching to remote methods.
“In the spring, we normally have about 150 students preparing for summer internships for hospitality credits,” Barnes said. “It would have been easy to cancel those, but students need a chance to work hands-on and face-to-face with professionals to build their skill set. We had to design alternatives to mimic the experiences they need to compete in the field.”
Barnes’ alternative approaches will be among the 35 presentations today in UNLV’s Best Teaching Practices Expo, where faculty share their research-based ideas for improving teaching across campus. The event provides faculty an opportunity for peer-review. Each poster must describe a teaching practice that:
- Addresses a particular need to improve teaching
- Benefits UNLV students in particular, and
- Applies in a variety of teaching contexts
The expo, now in its fifth year, is a signature event for UNLV offered through the Faculty Center, which promotes teaching development, research and career planning. This year, the expo culminates in a virtual discussion with distinguished presenters Feb. 12.
The methods Barnes and her colleagues designed included virtual mock interviews, weekly labor-relations discussions based on real events, and skills-application projects, such as restaurant menu development, and going through the steps for reopening a fictitious hotel. Each exercise gave students a chance to learn from industry professionals.
Clare Barker, a senior majoring in hospitality, said she had just accepted a summer internship to work the front desk at a resort in Colorado when it was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I was really worried I’d have a learning gap if I didn’t get an internship,” she said. “I applied for many more internships but they all got pulled.”
Barker said she then opted for Barnes’ alternative internship, which came as close to a real-world experience as she could imagine. Barker, who participated in the mock reopening of a hotel, said her first project required obtaining certification from the American Hotel and Lodging Association in hotel industry analytics.
“That’s a real certification that I put on my resume,” she said. “From there on, the whole simulation was very real. Each week we had a different project that was essentially the next phase of opening.”
Barker said she created a logo and designed recruitment, hiring, and employee training programs. She also developed an employee handbook and drafted hotel policies.
“Given the circumstances, I do think I got a lot out of it,” she said. “When I get a job, I can show that I know how to do XYZ because I’ve done it.”
Melissa Bowles-Terry, associate director of the Faculty Center, said the expo pulls great teaching out of individual classrooms and into the broader community of educators.
“We have such creative teachers,” she said. “The ways they're helping students do experiential learning in a totally online environment is really exciting. I also saw a big focus on inclusion and accessibility – making sure our teaching practices reach students, especially now that so many are learning from home. I hope that instructors will browse posters from all different disciplines and find something useful that they can try in their own classes.”
Cecilia Maldonado, associate vice provost for workforce development, applauded this year’s poster presenters for helping students connect concepts, theories, and models learned in the classroom to how they’ll apply in the real world, even while using virtual platforms.
“The ideas here make learning meaningful and exciting for students,” she said. “In career-related and experiential courses, using applied learning practices is critical to getting students from academic to professional development, and that strengthens their career readiness.”