New institute unites hospitality, health policy, design

Whitney Gray
Mark Vorreuter
Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures advisory board member Whitney Austin Gray '12 lectures at the institute’s first course, the Hospitality, Health, and Design Industry Immersion Seminar.

Carly Andrews ’17 arrived at Cornell hoping to immerse herself in food and beverage courses in the School of Hotel Administration (SHA). But while interning at a senior living community in Florida last summer, she developed a passion for gerontology.

When she returned to campus, Andrews found a newly created academic center that blended her interests in health care and hospitality: the Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures (CIHF), a collaboration between SHA and the College of Human Ecology. Andrews started working for the institute as its social media manager, and early this semester she co-founded the Cornell University Healthy Futures Student Organization.

“I just really got involved right away,” said Andrews, who hopes to work in the senior living field. “I think it’s an amazing way to combine all of these fields.”

Since its inception last summer, the institute has tapped into a growing interest among students and faculty to explore how hospitality, environmental design, and health policy and management intersect and how this emerging field can enhance service in hospitals, senior living centers, wellness facilities and other institutions.

“Health care is a booming industry, and it’s a very competitive industry,” said SHA senior lecturer Stephani Robson ‘88, M.S. ‘99, Ph.D. ‘10. “So applying concepts from hospitality allows health care institutions to be more competitive and provide a higher level of care and a higher level of experience for everyone.”

This semester, 60 students took the first course sponsored by the institute – the Hospitality, Health and Design Industry Immersion Seminar taught by 10 visiting industry leaders.

“The seminar created an opportunity for students to actively engage with industry leaders,” said Rohit Verma, CIHF executive director and the Singapore Tourism Board Distinguished Professor in SHA. After each class, Verma says students were invited to have lunch with the speakers at the institute’s offices.

Oscar Hoffman, a first-year graduate student in the Sloan Program in Health Administration, said the seminar demonstrated the role that hospitality and design play in improving the patient experience in health care. “Being in a seminar that highlighted each aspect of this triangle of design, health care and hospitality, I thought was really fantastic,” he said.

Next fall, a second course supported by the institute is planned – Hospitality Design Thinking, co-taught by Robson and John Sergi, SHA visiting lecturer. While the course previously focused solely on sports facilities, Robson has redesigned it so that it now explores the application of hospitality principles to health care facilities as well as to sports, retail and entertainment venues.

In addition to supporting new courses, the institute is facilitating research projects that bring together faculty members across Cornell. For example, CIHF helped to fund a study examining the effects of calorie labeling on menus in full-service restaurants.

“The goal is to see if calorie information influences consumer choices, leading them to either increase or decrease their number of calories ordered, and whether that’s influenced by consumer characteristics such as age, sex, health and diet,” says Alex Susskind, associate professor of food and beverage management at SHA. He is collaborating on the project with John Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management and of economics.

In the study, customers in two full-service restaurants receive menus either with or without calorie counts. After the meal, diners are surveyed and their responses are merged with restaurant receipt data, allowing researchers to examine the impact of the labels on the number of calories ordered.

With more than 40 faculty fellows from Cornell colleges involved in the institute, a number of other projects are also underway. In addition, five industry leaders have joined the institute as scholars to collaborate on the research.

Other institute initiatives include a panel discussion on the intersection of hospitality and health care at the Entrepreneurship at Cornell Celebration April 15, and an industry roundtable on Senior Housing and Care, April 21-22. The institute will also sponsor a conference Oct. 9-11 called the Cornell Hospitality, Health and Design Symposium.

“I think we are on target with the things we wanted to do,” Verma said. “We are grateful for the resources that have been given to us by the College of Human Ecology and the School of Hotel Administration, and we are proud to have accomplished a considerable amount in terms of creating an educational program and bringing people together in a short period of time.”

Sherrie Negrea is a freelance writer.

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