Hospitality Teams Work with Newport Festivals, Marriott + More on Moving Forward

When COVID-19 threw the possibility of summer internships into doubt, a team of JWU deans, faculty, staff and industry professionals, including alumni, pooled their resources to develop unique opportunities for more than 22 College of Hospitality Management (COHM) students from all 4 campuses.

The effects of COVID-19 certainly caused a ripple effect for the more than 60 COHM students who needed to complete summer internships in order to graduate. While nearly 40 students campuswide postponed their requirements or secured virtual internships, the remainder needed other options in order to graduate in 2020. When this dilemma became apparent, Hospitality Management faculty quickly put their heads together for a solution.

JWU Providence Associate Dean Robert Fink, Ed.D., worked with Dean Sheri Young, Experiential Education & Career Services, to create projects that would provide relevant, real-life experience for students. They didn’t let COVID-19 stand in their way. In fact, they included the virus’ destruction in the projects they created.

When Fink put out a call for help, 3 faculty members volunteered to create Directed Experiential Education (DEE) courses for the summer term. DEEs provide real-world experience to students through industry or function-based projects for partners (nonprofit and for-profit companies and organizations). Supervised by faculty, students research and present ideas and suggestions to the partners who give them valuable feedback. It’s a win-win collaboration allowing students to gain problem-solving, critical thinking and leadership skills.

Fink and Young, along with Lee Esckilsen and Patricia Bowman, both associate professors at the Providence Campus, and Emily Brannen '12, '14 MBA, a lecturer at the Charlotte Campus, accelerated the development and approval of 3 new DEEs (with a total of 4 separate projects) to replace the canceled internships. And they put the students at the forefront of handling a real-time crisis for two hotels, a large events venue and an internationally renowned festival foundation.


The faculty worked with the DEE partners to create projects based on the partners’ needs. Esckilsen split his group of 10 students into two groups. Half worked with the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts and its general manager, Jeff Mann. The other 5 worked with Allison Pangakis '08, a JWU alum and the operations manager for the Newport Festivals Foundation in Newport, Rhode Island. Both groups were tasked with creating transition plans to reopen the venues as restrictions around COVID-19 subside, including systems to ensure clean, safe environments for guests and best practices to meet new standards driven by the pandemic.

Bowman’s 6 students worked with Michael Canini '00, a JWU alum and director of hotel operations, Newport Marriott Hotel & Spa in Newport, Rhode Island. Brannen’s 6 students worked with Jon Farace, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both groups’ objectives were to develop marketing plans to promote the hotels’ commitment to guest and employee safety and to grow their business in this pandemic environment.

DEE Details

All 4 student teams presented their final plans to their DEE partners via Zoom meetings. Included were the histories of the organizations and how they’ve been affected by the pandemic. Along with the guidelines for wearing masks, social distancing and sanitizing, the comprehensive plans included some creative and useful ideas inspired by the students’ research. Here’s a sampling:

Newport Festivals Foundation:

  • Use RFID (radio frequency identification) wristbands for cashless purchases of tickets, merchandise, and food and beverage, limiting in-person interaction and fraudulent tickets, and raising funds by featuring sponsor’s logos on the bands.
  • Have free disposable masks with festival logo on them available for people who lost or forgot theirs and also sell higher quality reusable cloth, festival-themed masks to attendees.
  • Check IDs during check-in process to eliminate handing them back and forth later for alcohol purchases.

Infographic featuring Instagram posts

Xfinity Center:

  • Offer discounts for digitally pre-ordering merchandise and food and beverage, and use an app for touchless paying.
  • Have “fan Pods” available for purchase that include 2, 4 or 6 seats together with seats directly around them cordoned off.
  • Add ticket insurance as an option.

Newport Marriott Hotel:

  • Post online updates about measures taken for dealing with COVID-19, along with “We miss you” and “Please wear a mask” messages with photos and videos from staff.
  • Rent out unused space as “remote office space with a view” for people working remotely/from home.
  • Draw guests in through events such as Cook with Our Chef, DIY Spa Day and Thanksgiving Dinner.

Ritz-Carlton Charlotte:

  • Increase and better target social media with hashtags such as #FamilyTravel, #Staycation #RitzCarltonFamily and #Road Trip.
  • Open Twitter and Snapchat accounts for advertising, video marketing, partnering with travel influencers, promoting local attractions and COVID-19 updates.
  • Upsell spa services, room upgrades and unique booking options such as the use of a professional camera. 

The partner representatives for each group sat in on the DEEs’ virtual classes several times during the term, not just for the final presentation. They provided significant, constructive input on students’ ideas that students found helpful not just for the projects but also for their futures in the hospitality industry.

Students Weigh In

Carlee Morgan, Xfinity DEE: “I actually loved it [the DEE]. Losing my summer internship was a disappointment … but this made up for that. When I graduate and go out into the industry, showing that I worked directly with Xfinity to create a reopening plan for coming out of the pandemic will look great on my resume ... and I like that I’ve built a connection with their managers."

Colette Savignano, Newport Marriott DEE: “We did some Instagram posts and highlights. I put together some TiKTok videos and Twitter polls. It encouraged me to become more creative and innovative because the project’s whole point was to come up with new ideas the hotel could use during these times. It’s encouraged me to think outside the box and come up with new ways to do things.”

Andrew Johnson, Newport Festival DEE: “You have to focus on making sure that all attendees are safe and healthy and that they know the procedures, so you have to communicate that to them. But you also have to ensure that it’s worth it for them to come to a show or event and still have a good time. Finding that balance is probably going to be the toughest challenge.”

Infographic about RFID Implementation

DEE Partners’ Feedback
The partner representatives were impressed by the students’ ideas, work and presentations, and might even put some of them into practice.

Michael Canini: “Some of the ideas were pretty awesome — putting our cleaning FAQs on Instagram, promoting Chef of the Day, using Twitter to create polls. The DIY spa day is phenomenal. I took the ‘office with a view’ idea and thought of using some dead spaces that I’m not using now… that’s the one I want to talk to my director of sales about. There’s a lot of useful information in the plan that I’ll share with my team … you guys by far exceeded expectations.”

Jeff Mann: “About the idea of paying digitally, if I could get one thing coming out of COVID-19 that changes, it would be a cashless option for us … it’s faster, it’s easier and it’s a data catcher. I love the pre-ordering concept to make life easier for the fans, and it could benefit us from a sales perspective. I think you guys did a fantastic job and some of these ideas … I need to look a little deeper into, but I definitely think you’re on the right track.”

Jon Farace: “You should be proud of yourselves from a research and presentation perspective … I think when you place skill and education together, the boundaries are limitless. You should keep that in mind as you continue to grow your careers. I’m proud of your work and I’m glad I could be part of this project.”

Allison Pangakis: “We had some great, open conversations about how COVID-19 may forever change the live events industry as we knew it. For me personally, it was an opportunity to share my knowledge of the industry during a time when many event professionals are seeing the industry they love slip away. It meant a lot to be able to give back to the future of the industry.”


Infographic Xfinity Center