Iowa State expands international opportunities in hospitality and event management

SoJung Lee is expanding international opportunities for students in hospitality and event management.

Lee, an assistant professor in apparel, events, and hospitality management at Iowa State University, was the chief administrative officer of this year’s conference of the Korea America Hospitality and Tourism Educators & Industry Professionals Association (KAHTEA), held April 21 and 22 in Las Vegas.

“There are a lot of Korean professors and educators in the United States in hospitality and tourism areas,” said Lee, who is originally from Seoul, South Korea. “We created something to get together every year and exchange research ideas and encourage students to come and develop their research concepts.”

More than 50 faculty members and students met at this year’s conference to exchange research ideas. Lee brought two Iowa State doctoral students and one undergraduate student with her.

Focus on mentoring

The hospitality management major at Iowa State is known worldwide for its excellence in research. It was recently ranked 15th among the world’s top 100 hospitality and tourism programs, according to the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research. Students have access to learning labs such as the Joan Bice Underwood Tearoom, a 105-seat dining facility on campus.

Lee, who began attending the conference six years ago as a doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has remained involved and taken a leadership role in the KAHTEA organization, giving Iowa State a prominent role in the conference.

SoJung Lee (third from left) was key in organizing a recent Korean-American hospitality conference, also attended by Iowa State students (left to right) Heelye Park, Eunkyoung Park, and Vanessa Phoebe Cooper. Contributed Photo.

While the conference started with Korean educators, it is now open to all who have an interest in hospitality and tourism. The organization focuses on fostering collaboration and networking between hospitality educators and industry professionals in both Korea and America.

Lee said she appreciates the mentoring she’s received through the organization and conference. She’s now passing the opportunity along to her own students.

“At KAHTEA, I found myself genuinely welcomed and ushered into the gathering as a valued participant,” said Heelye Park, a second-year doctoral student in apparel, events, and hospitality management, who is also originally from South Korea. “That atmosphere of genuine hospitality encouraged me to mingle with others for mutual networking opportunities.”

Park, along with Lee as his major professor, won best paper at the conference for research which found that among hunters and anglers, information from other hunters and anglers is viewed as more trustworthy than information from those who don’t share those interests.

This finding is important for marketers who can use social media to facilitate connection of prospective tourists of a particular destination with the positive destination experiences of former tourists with similar interests.

Hospitality on display

Vanessa Phoebe Cooper presented research about music festival loyalty at an undergraduate session at the conference.

Cooper, who was a senior in apparel, events, and hospitality management concurrently seeking her master’s degree, worked with Lee on the research and may expand it for her thesis.

“She’s great to work with, very helpful,” Cooper said of Lee. “I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for her. I didn’t even know about it until she introduced me to it.”

Cooper said the conference provided a good networking opportunity and practice for presenting her research. She said the smaller size of the conference and welcoming attitude of Korean-American educators made making connections easier.

“I was surprised — in a good way — by how hospitable all of the Korean professors were,” Cooper said. “They had us over to their homes. I think that says a lot about their character. They were all really excited and trying to convince everyone to go visit Korea. They were very welcoming and friendly.”

Cooper said while people are expected to be welcoming in the hospitality industry, bigger conferences aren’t as personal as this one was. She said she appreciated being able to talk to each and every person there.

Research presented by Eunkyoung Park, a graduate student in apparel, events, and hospitality management, suggests that destination managers maximize local social and natural resources to improve environmentally responsible behavior by residents.

“It was a good opportunity to improve my own presentation skills and knowledge by sharing my thoughts and opinions at KAHTEA,” she said.

Lee hopes to continue expanding cultural and global opportunities for events and hospitality management students by creating a study-abroad opportunity that would allow students to attend an academic conference in Asia and visit both educational institutions and businesses.