The hospitality management program at Penn State began formally in 1937 as an outgrowth of Institutional Management and was originally known as Hotel Administration. Phyllis Sprague, a member of the home economics faculty and an active proponent of a hotel program on campus, was appointed to serve as the program’s first head, a position she held until 1943. Mary Trout (1943-44) and Esther Atkinson (1944-54) followed as heads of the program.
The Penn State Alumni News of December 1940 described the program as follows:
“The Hotel Administration course at Penn state is the most varied curriculum in the [Pennsylvania State] College. In addition to several strictly hotel courses involving front office procedures taught by hotelmen, the hotel administration students take courses in nearly every school on campus. The students get a complete business and accounting training, several courses in quantity cooking and quantity buying, courses in meat judging and cutting, four chemistry courses including on the deals with textiles, physics, speech [and] several others. The future hotelmen get an insight into the practical side of their profession through frequent field trips and compulsory summer work in hotels and restaurants.”
In 1946, a curriculum revision came as a direct result of a conference between Penn State staff and leaders from both the Pennsylvania Hotels and Restaurant associations. By 1954, professional courses in the program constituted one-third of the student’s required course work. Courses in business and accounting, chemistry, meat cutting, poultry husbandry and beginning foods were given either as regular courses or special service courses by the respective departments at Penn State; in fact, course work was required in seven of the nine schools.
The “modern era” of the program, together with a gradual increase in emphasis toward food service management, began in the middle 1950s. In 1957, the program added an extension service under the direction of Clarice Gullicksen Taylor. Mrs. Taylor inaugurated a statewide service that reviewed food operations at such state supported or affiliated institutions as colleges, prisons and hospitals. This program quickly introduced improved management techniques to these institutions, reduced their costs and played a vital role in the design of new facilities.
Dr. S. Earl Thompson, a widely known figure in the history of hospitality management in Penn State Food Service and Housing Administration (FSHA), took over as program head in 1958. The avuncular Thompson, who had previously served as director of the food service program at Michigan State and had held other hospitality posts at Southern Illinois and the University of Illinois, brought a new professional and academic rigor to the Penn State program. He started by dividing the Hotel Administration major into two separate majors – Commercial Food Service and Institutional Resident Management – and started an associate degree program in Housing and Food Service at Penn State Berks that continues today. Thompson was also responsible for starting a dietetic internship program at Penn State.
Thompson retired in 1970 and was replaced by Dr. Thomas F. Powers. Once again, the curriculum underwent an extensive revision with its four-year majors now focused entirely upon Service Management and Administrative Dietetics. During the 1970’s, The FSHA program conducted a large amount of sponsored research and produced a number of respected publications, including a dietetic technician associate degree program predicated completely on correspondence courses written by FSHA faculty with funding from the American Dietetic Association.
Dr. Powers resigned as program head in 1977. Leo M. Renaghan, a former faculty member who had left in 1976 to head a new hotel management program at Northern Arizona University, returned to Penn State to lead the program – a position he held until the spring of 1981 when he left to become a professor of hospitality marketing at Cornell University. His departure came just as the Department of Food Service and Housing Administration was to become the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRIM) to bring it into conformity with accepted educational terminology across the nation and to reflect new the department’s new inspirational aspirations.
Following an 18-month search, Dr. Horace A. “Andy” Divine was appointed head of the department in 1983. Divine came to Penn State via Washington State University’s Seattle Center for Hotel and Restaurant Administration and brought with him 20 years of industry experience to complement his academic background. His experience, along with the support of the College of Human Development under the leadership of Dean Evan Pattishall and of the hospitality industry, provided an atmosphere of growth and development for the program.
Reflecting the growth of the program and its contributions to the hospitality industry, Penn State upgraded the department to create the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management in 1987. The school was and continues to be based in the College of Health and Human Development, which allowed for more collaboration on research and outreach projects with other academic units in the College. The school also implemented a new curriculum at the time of its restructuring, offering options in general hospitality management; hotel management; management dietetics; and foodservice management.
The Mateer Building was named after A. Laura Mateer and her husband, M.C. “Matty” Mateer.
Divine stepped down as school director in 1990, at which time Dr. Stuart H. Mann assumed the helm. It also marked the beginning of another exciting time in the history of the program, as funds were secured for the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management to build its new home adjacent to Keller Building on the University Park campus. The Mateer Building – named after A. Laura Mateer and her husband, M.C. “Matty” Mateer, in whose memory she had donated $1.5 million to the School — was a state-of-the-art facility that supported the growth and application of technology in hospitality and food management. The facility, which was completed in 1993, includes a research and teaching kitchen, hospitality information systems lab, production kitchen, dining room (named Café Laura to honor Laura Mateer), resource/learning center and media demonstration auditorium.
Also in 1990, Dean Anne Petersen appointed a task force charged with the task of designing a new unit that would integrate the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management and the Department of Leisure Studies. The purpose, according to Dr. Petersen, was to “consolidate our strengths in hospitality and capitalize on the growing importance of commercial recreation, travel and tourism.” Based on the recommendations of the task force, the two were integrated to create the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management in 1991 with Mann at the helm. Although restructured as one administrative unit, the programs offered by both units remained intact.
In 1992, the hospitality management curriculum was again modified to keep pace with changes in the industry. The general hospitality management, hotel management and foodservice management options were dropped, and an option in hotel, restaurant and institutional management was added to prepare students for management positions in all segments of the hospitality industry.
Mann stepped down as school director in 1998 following a 28-year career at Penn State. In his place came Dr. Sara C. Parks, who had been serving as the College’s associate dean for outreach and cooperative extension. Dr. Parks, who had served as president of the American Dietetic Association and was largely responsible for the creation of the first distance education program offered at Penn State (the dietetic technician program), continued the tradition of excellence set forth before her. Working closely with Dr. Peter Bordi, Parks created the school’s Center for Food Innovation which has evolved as an innovator in the development of healthy foods for restaurant companies and others, including serving as a leader in the removal of trans fats from many restaurant company menus.
By the time Parks retired as school director in 2005, the programs in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Recreation Management had grown to the point that they once again would need to stand as separate academic units within the College: the School of Hospitality Management and the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management.
In 2005, Dr. Bert Van Hoof became director of the School of Hospitality Management following an international search. Van Hoof had served as a professor and administrator in hospitality management at Northern Arizona University. Under Van Hoof’s leadership, the school dramatically increased its international study offerings. Today, undergraduate students can study abroad through several different programs of varying lengths that take them to such countries as China, Holland, France, Italy, Spain and Australia.
Van Hoof helped institute a new undergraduate focus on gaming and casino management, which prepares students for management and executive roles in the casino industry. In 2008, several courses were developed that teach students about casino history and math, the social impact of casinos, and casino marketing. Students also complete a hands-on internship with a casino, and the school hosts several educational and professional development trips for students.
In 2011, Dr. John W. O’Neill was named the director of the School of Hospitality Management. A member of the school faculty since 2001, O’Neill previously held unit-, regional-, and corporate-level management positions with Hyatt and Marriott in a number of different cities. His research focuses on real estate, asset management, strategic management and hotel branding.
O’Neill has led upgrades to the interior and exterior of the Mateer Building working closely with Dean Nan Crouter, including a renovation of Café Laura at the cost of over one million dollars, updates to the building's public spaces and refurbishments of each of the Mateer Building classrooms, including new classroom technology. Working with director of hospitality industry relations Brian Black, he strengthened the school’s ties to the hospitality industry, including reinvigorating the Conti Professorship series, adding new seminars bringing industry executives to campus, sponsoring a new hotel investment conference in Washington, DC, attracting new recruiters to campus for both internships and permanent jobs for the school’s graduates, and forming an industry advisory board composed primarily of presidents and CEOs of smaller hospitality companies and executive vice presidents and senior vice presidents of larger hospitality conglomerates.
Working closely with professor-in-charge of the undergraduate program and associate director of the school, Dr. Bart Bartlett, O’Neill has instituted curricular improvements, including changes to the school’s lodging, food & beverage and gaming operations courses that attracted new esteemed faculty to the school. Significant changes have also been made to the school’s technology curriculum, new courses in contemporary hospitality management issues such as asset management and social media management have been added, and the school created an entrepreneurship and innovation minor. The name of the major was changed from Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management to Hospitality Management to reflect the updated curriculum. Also, working with professor-in-charge of the graduate program, Dr. Anna Mattila, O’Neill has led increases to the diversity of the graduate student body, the number of research grants secured by the faculty and the number of applied research publications by faculty.
Other recent enhancements to student learning experiences have included the addition of Conti field trips where groups of students travel with faculty to visit the field operations of leading hospitality organizations, including meeting with company CEOs. Also, thanks to the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society and other donors, new funding has been generated which supports student travel to important industry conferences. These changes led to increased student satisfaction, enrollment, diversity and placement.
From its humble beginnings in 1937, the School of Hospitality Management has grown to become one of the most prestigious hospitality management programs in the world. The program now boasts more than 700 undergraduate and graduate students.