Purdue HTM alumna delivers 5-star patient and community experiences at Eskenazi Health

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

Lois Dennison

Lois DennisonPhoto provided

Lois Dennison’s dream college had advanced Chinese language courses and a stable where she could bring her horse along with her. Purdue University offered both. A 2013 College of Health and Human Sciences alumna, Dennison arrived at Purdue with an open mind about where her education might lead her, and during her second semester, she found her passion in the White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM).

As director of dining and community feeding at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis, Dennison took a different approach to the hospitality and tourism management industry, leading the patient dining experience, retail and catering in the hospital as well as working with Eskenazi Health’s Social Determinants of Health team to increase access to quality food in the community.

“I really didn’t think of it as a job in healthcare to start, but then my role kind of grew over the years, and I took on more responsibility,” Dennison said. “As I learned more about the mission that Eskenazi Health has to really give back to the community and take care of our patient population, my role definitely became more directly impactful on the healthcare side of things and not just catering and retail.”

During her time at Eskenazi Health, Dennison has worked to make an impact on each patient who visits the hospital through excellent service and dining options. She also had a broader influence in the community through addressing food insecurity, both through the hospital’s Fresh For You Market and partnering with Gleaners Food Bank to offer food distribution events in the Indianapolis area. In 2021, Dennison was recognized with Partnership in Leadership Award from the Association for Healthcare Foodservice in recognition of her work to address food insecurity.

One of Dennison’s friends originally brought the hospitality and tourism management major to her attention as a first-year student, and it perfectly encompassed her interests and previous experience, as Dennison had worked in a restaurant throughout high school and always loved helping with family meals as a kid. The major also allowed her to build on her experience by working in catering and events at the Purdue Memorial Union (PMU).

“I already kind of had that passion, so when I learned more about the degree, I realized that was the perfect fit for me,” Dennison said. “Then, my sophomore year, I started working in catering at the Union, and that just kind of further set that in stone for me.”

During her time working in catering and events, Dennison met countless alumni and grew to really appreciate the alumni network who were so dedicated to the University. Dennison is now proud to have joined that group, regularly returning to campus for Homecoming and other events. While Dennison enjoyed each of her alumni encounters, one stood out to Dennison above all of rest.

“I actually got to serve Neil Armstrong one evening,” Dennison said. “I was the head waiter at the time, so he was at my table, and I got to serve him. That was really cool for me.”

In addition to her catering experience, Dennison gained an opportunity at Purdue to combine her Chinese language skills with her hospitality and tourism management studies through HTM’s Sponsored Internship and Study Abroad program in China. While Dennison ultimately decided to do something different with her career than working in lodging and hotels, she noted the trip was transformational in allowing her to connect deeper with her major while also making lifelong friends.

“That entire experience definitely contributed to how I view hospitality,” Dennison said. “That was one of the most valuable experiences that I feel like going to Purdue offered me.”

Dennison credits her Purdue experience with connecting her to Eskenazi Health. She may not have considered a position in healthcare had she not made valuable connections through working in catering and events in the PMU. Dennison’s former boss at the PMU had left to pursue a job at Eskenazi Health, and when it was time for Dennison to graduate, he contacted her about leading catering at Eskenazi Health. Dennison took the job and never looked back, valuing the difference she’s been able to make for individual patients and the community.

“I’m so glad that I chose to go to Purdue because if I hadn’t, I don’t know where I would be today, honestly,” Dennison said.

Dennison encourages students in the hospitality and tourism management program to explore all their options because there are countless opportunities that align with the skills learned in HTM that extend beyond event planning, hotels and restaurants.

“Healthcare has really changed over the years, especially when it comes to food service, and we really pride ourselves on the ability to give our patients the same dining experience that they would have anywhere else,” Dennison said. “I think our room service is on par with a lot of the hotels here in downtown Indianapolis. We serve high-quality food. In order to do that, we need skilled individuals who have that education and background in the hospitality field, and it can be applied in so many unconventional ways.”