Moving from one of the most famous tourist spots in the U.S. to Sarasota, the new College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership dean at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee wants the school to find its niche.
The hospitality school shouldn’t be a “factory” hotel school, churning out mass numbers of working. Pat Moreo, who spent the last 13 years as a faculty member at the College of Hotel Administation at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, wants USFSM to have a “boutique” hospitality school, turning out high-quality managers who can work in the upscale industry in Sarasota and around the area.
The boutique hospitality schools strike the balance between size and quality, Moreo says.
As hotel schools across the nation are being folded into business schools, Moreo said he was attracted to USFSM because officials say the value in keeping the school separate.
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Q: You officially started July 1. What has your experience been like in your first week or so here?
A: Actually, the best answer to that question is what’s my experience been like since I received my formal offer, which was in March. I’ve been engaged with the college and the university since that time. I came to the 40th anniversary gala and it was such a heart-warming event and really a chance to meet a lot of good people.
Jim Curran, the guy who was the former interim dean, he has just been marvelous. He’s been a great guy. He’s been trying to get me to formally take over long before July 1. Jim and I have been in contact a lot, especially for things that were going to happen after I came.
Also, I got here a week early so we had to meet with a potential donor. We want to build a building and that’s a major project.
Everybody’s been very helpful. I’ve been trying to meet with as many people as I can. The thing to do is to meet with folks and say hi and find out what’s on people’s minds. So that’s really what I’ve been doing for the last week.
The big thing, for me, is I’ve also spent time out at the culinary lab on Main Street in Lakewood Ranch.
Q: You’ve got big plans for that facility, right?
A: I do. I do. I’m going to help the faculty and our constituents move ahead with plans. It’s not just me. Certainly, our big goal out there is teaching students. That’s why it’s there.
We’re not a culinary school but culinary arts, food and beverage management, food and beverage service; we use that in service of teaching management. Our students are going to be managers eventually. Our focus here is management and operations, and technology.
Operations is lodging operations, but it’s also food and beverage operations. Most hotels, clubs, hospitals — you name it, there’s food. And there’s beverage.
The reason for these labs, then, is that it helps us teach management in reality, in a real setting. The second reason is people need to know what they’re managing. In this case, it’s food and beverage and they need to understand that.
I don’t care if somebody knows how to make a hollandaise sauce. But I do care if they know what a hollandaise sauce is, and if they know that the chef they’re hiring knows how to make the hollandaise sauce.
That culinary innovation lab remains very important. The big goal there is teaching there.
But the other big goal there is teaching, community engagement. For us to be able to service the community. We need catering there. The students get experience when we do catering. The community gets, hopefully, fabulous food.
The third thing is kind of a long haul. We’d like to do some kind of a weekly community engagement event out there. I don’t know what yet.
Of course, here, we have to grow this program. That’s something I’ve been thinking about. One thing that I hope we can get here eventually is housing. It’s just critical for students. I see this as a magnet. We want to be a boutique hospitality program, boutique meaning that very high quality, very well known.
Big enough to have specialty in the faculty in all the area. All that stuff. But small enough so we know who the students are. Small enough so we can care for the students.
Q: The area of Florida that we’re in, this is a hotspot for hospitality and tourism. That’s got to be attractive, doesn’t it?
A: It is. And finding our niche is important, and it is management and operations and technology.
If you look to the south of us, they have a golf management program there at Florida Gulf Coast. And they have a good program there, but ours is more focused on management and operations.
To the north, you have University of South Florida. Great program, lovely, they’ve got 3,000 students there. It’s a very different experience, it’s a very different motif.
What we have to offer here is, first of all, to have exposure in a very concentrated tourist area. And in the case of Sarasota and the Tampa Bay area, a very high-end tourist area, which is important.
Q: When you talk about management and operations, my mind goes to a college of business, a business degree. How is this different?
A: That is a great question. The big difference is that we are focused proportionately more on service than the business colleges are. That’s one answer.
The other big difference is examples. The way our students learn is by seeing an example first, then we back in and say here’s why that example works, and here’s the theory behind it, and then once they understand that we say, now here’s the other ways you can apply all this. It’s kind of a reverse way of learning, and most of our students do well with it.
The other thing is that we will have all those same courses business does: marketing, accounting, finance. Of course, they don’t have the operations courses we do, the food and beverage. All those other courses they have, those core courses, we will take those courses but use hospitality examples throughout.
There has been a little bit of a trend lately for some of the hospitality schools to join into the business college.
Unfortunately, many of us believe they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater on this. And so, people say, “Well gosh, if it’s good enough for Cornell, why isn’t it good enough for us?”
Well, it’s for the reasons I just gave. We need to keep the focus on being that bridge between academia and industry with students crossing over the bridge all the time. That’s our job as a professional school.
I was actually supposed to go on sabbatical this fall, to finish this article on the evolution of hospitality programs and to finish my cookbook, Italian-American cuisine for the 21st century. But then this opportunity came along, and I got very excited to come down here.
I think this is an opportunity to take this program and build it and polish this diamond.
Q: Tell us about this cookbook.
A: It collects recipes for the Italian-American cuisine, but I’m tracing the evolution. It’s not just a theory book, it’s a cookbook. It’s tracing the evolution of Italian-American cuisine.
There’s so many dishes that people aren’t aware of that come from different parts of Italy. That’s what I’m doing and I’m trying to talk about what’s going to happen.
My thesis is that — language evolves, customs evolve, we are Americans, but part of being an American is still to honor your roots. So that’s what I’m talking about. The last thing that goes in becoming an American is the food. That food will survive many, many generations and I want it to.
Q: Let’s go back to growth and the program. How do you manage that? How do you keep that in check?
A: It’s kind of three-pronged. One is to be sure the university is on board with all that, everybody understands that. I think everybody buys in.
The second is to be sure we’ve got the right faculty here. We’ve got teaching, research and service, those are the three legs of our stool of academics. As a college, we have to be excellent in all three, but it doesn’t mean every individual faculty members has to be excellent in all three.
The third thing is service. Service to the industry, both here in Sarasota and in Florida and national. Service to the community, and service to the students and their families. That’s really important.
All three of those have to happen.
Q: Given our industries, both Sarasota and Manatee counties are so tourism driven, how do you balance working with those industries and the needs of the students?
A: Our job, as I said, is to be the bridge. You’ve got industry with their numbers and students with their desires. One of the obvious ways to make the connection is through our internship and the practical work experience requirement. That’s a big way.
Another way is the events, like Hospitabull.
And bringing speakers in and adjunct faculty. Those are huge. I want to start an industry speaker series. It’s a lot of fun.
Florida is a set entity. How many markets are there for more UCFs? I would think not. And nor do we want to be. UCF is huge and has done very, very well. They are to be respected, but our niche is different from theirs, probably a little more operations- and management-focused.
Q: When you talk management and operations, these are the kinds of job your students will be aiming for?
A: The management and operations are actually running the places. Intitially running the place, eventually at the corporate level. Yes, we’re going to prepare our students to be unit supervisors at the least if not area managers. But long term we have to prepare them to be strategic managers, corporate level.
While students are in the program, absolutely they’re going to be cooks and they’re going to be waiters and they’re going to be doing all of this stuff. When they get out, hopefully they’re going to at least be a shift supervisor.
Some people will end up going into data analytics, into real estate, into other areas. We don’t have tracks in our program, but we have good elective courses.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I enjoy my grandchildren and travel. I love to travel.
We go to San Francisco at least one weekend a year. When I graduated from college, I went to San Francisco. I love that.
I like Italy, a lot. And Paris. I’ve been to China. I haven’t been to South America yet, I want to see that.
My other big passion is cooking. I’m one of these lucky people that it’s my profession, my vocation, my avocation.