In just the first few months since completing the University of Mississippi’s online Master of Science in Hospitality Management, the program’s first two graduates have seen new career opportunities opening up, and they offered advice and encouragement for others considering enrolling.
Emily Styles, of Oxford, and Morgan Sears, of Raleigh, North Carolina, are the first graduates of the program, which launched in fall 2018. Offered by the university’s Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, the online master’s program prepares management-level professionals for advancement in the field.
The program aims to provide graduate students the opportunity to develop more effective operational and analytical skills while preparing individuals for leadership positions and career advancement in operations management or new careers in teaching and research.
“After having worked in both higher education and hospitality, I knew that if I wanted to continue to combine my two areas of passion, it would be beneficial to earn a degree in hospitality management,” Styles said. “The fact that the courses were all offered online and through the University of Mississippi, where I am currently employed, also played a factor in my interest and why I joined the program.”
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Styles received her bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Tennessee. After graduation, she participated in the Disney College Program, which provides on-the-job experience working in Disney parks and resorts while participating in college coursework.
She continued her education at UM, earning her master’s degree in higher education and working in various student housing roles at the University of North Florida and University of Tennessee.
Styles returned to Oxford in 2014 and serves as assistant director for housing assignments in the Department of Student Housing.
“Customer service is a large part of hospitality management,” Styles said. “Throughout the program, I learned how each piece within an organization helps ensure excellent customer service is provided to those engaging with that organization.
“Within my current role, I see this on a daily basis. Each area within student housing plays a significant role in ensuring the student experience exceeds their expectations. As I continue to grow both personally and professionally, I know that this knowledge will continue to help me ensure success.”
Styles said she uses the customer service skills and knowledge that she gained through her education and professional experiences and applies them when working with faculty, staff, students and parents.
“I am also lucky that the leadership in my department knows and appreciates my passion for hospitality management, specifically event planning,” she said. “I was able to plan and host a virtual conference in November 2020 for other SEC schools who utilize the same housing software as we do.
“Additionally, I was asked to serve as the chair of the event planning committee for the Mississippi Association of Housing Officers 2021 meeting in November 2021 that will be hosted at the University of Mississippi. I believe that having this degree will continue to open doors and new opportunities for me throughout my personal and professional life.”
Both Styles and Sears work full time and have personal commitments outside of work, so the online environment was perfect for these working professionals.
“I really enjoyed the online environment because of the flexibility,” Sears said. “Having two children and a full-time career – it made getting my master’s possible. I stayed in touch with other students via email and texting, and the professors were also very accessible throughout the entire program.”
Sears graduated from Ole Miss in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.
“Immediately following graduation, I started as a front office supervisor at Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Resort and Spa,” she said. “The front office, as the heart of the hotel, taught me a lot about the different departments and where I saw myself in the industry.
“From the front office, I went into events in Orlando, Florida, as a coordinator at Rosen Shingle Creek. The events world led me to sales at The Peabody Orlando as a sales administrative assistant. I found my home in sales, and my journey continued as sales manager at Sheraton Orlando North and then Hyatt Regency Orlando, where I was a sales manager and then associate director of sales.”
She later was promoted as director of sales and marketing at another Hyatt Regency property in Orlando and has moved on to work remotely for the Hyatt Regency New Orleans from her home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The two online classmates were lucky enough to meet in person during one of Styles’ frequent trips to Orlando while Sears was living and working there.
“Morgan and I became good friends, and we were able to take all of the classes together online, even though we were states apart,” Styles said. “We were able to stay in touch via phone, text, Zoom, email, social media and Blackboard.”
Sears learned about the online master’s program from several of her former professors.
“I learned something from every single course in this program,” she said. “The one thing that the program really taught me was confidence when making big decisions in sales. Being in charge of a large budget and quota and having the confidence to make quick decisions is crucial, and this program provided me with that new level of confidence.
“Students can expect to learn what is actually happening in the industry. They will be able to take everything they learn and apply it to the industry in some form. Learning how to do proper research on certain topics was also very beneficial.”
Sears hopes to pursue a college teaching position in hospitality management with her new degree.
By Sarah Sapp