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Hotel and Johnson schools team to offer real-world sustainability course

Global poverty, climate change, ecosystem degradation and other issues are being tackled in a new course offered by the School of Hotel Administration and the Johnson School. The four-credit Sustainable Global Enterprise Practicum in the Hospitality Industry, open to Cornell undergraduate and graduate students, began in October with an enrollment of 15.

"Students get cutting-edge theory with on-the-ground experience," said Mark Milstein, director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and lecturer of Strategy, Innovation and Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson School. Milstein teaches the course, which he developed with Tom Ward, managing director of the Hotel School's Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship.

"The hospitality industry must take the lead in confronting social and environmental issues, such as global poverty, climate change and ecosystem degradation. Through this partnership, we aim to help students fully appreciate the need for sustainable business practices," said Ward.

The course ran the last seven weeks of the fall semester and continues the first seven weeks of the spring term. Students do field work -- collecting data, conducting interviews -- during winter break. They are working in teams on three projects with HEI Hotels and Resorts, a hotel investment and operating group led by Hotel School alumni Gary Mendell '79 and Stephen Mendell '82, who also contributed funding for the first five years of the course.

"We believe this course will benefit the students, sponsoring companies and environment," said Gary Mendell. "Students will develop and refine their critical analysis and decision-making skills, while executives will gain new perspectives on what they might do to become innovative leaders in the sustainability movement." Students are examining the efficiency of HEI operations; green building and design of HEI properties; and a long-range project on sustainability trends in hospitality domestically and internationally and how they may affect HEI. "We're building a model for the course that incorporates flexibility and freedom to prepare our students well by giving industry what it needs to move forward more effectively," said Milstein.

"The class has been a great learning experience," said David Shapiro, a Hotel School graduate student. "Professor Milstein has given us an opportunity to discuss global sustainability trends and apply them to the hospitality space, an industry that has been slow to adapt. Interacting with HEI gives us real-world exposure to the hospitality industry and makes our education and recommendations even more relevant. There is a great opportunity to help facilitate positive change in the industry."

Across campus, courses are emerging that teach students to apply sustainability principles in the age of globalization, and Milstein's and Ward's centers plan to foster further collaboration. Their first joint effort, which will be offered again next year, is promising.

"I think it's going very well," Milstein said. "We've got students who are engaged, we have interesting projects, we've got this company that is involved and committed. We are where we want to be."


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