Purdue HTM students take inaugural trip to Washington, D.C., through exclusive leadership program

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

A large group of people pose for a photo in a conference room

Purdue HTM students pose with David Marriott and Howard University students for a group photo in Marriott International headquarters.(Photo provided)

From making connections at Marriott International headquarters to collaborating with one of the largest historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States at Howard University, a group of 10 top-achieving students in Purdue University’s White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) went on a three-day trip in April to Washington, D.C., as part of a distinct leadership opportunity across the school’s four majors.

The inaugural trip is part of a leadership program in HTM and is funded by a five-year grant from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. It will provide a core group of HTM students with the opportunity to develop their business skills and see the real-world applications of their majors at the highest level.

Having recently visited Marriott headquarters, Ceridwyn King, White Lodging Services Head and professor of HTM, was motivated to find a way for Purdue HTM students to see a different perspective of HTM industries in an urban environment where global leaders operate.

“I thought, our students really need to see this because when they think about hospitality, for example, they often just think about hotels, restaurants and events, which is fine, but there’s also the business side of the industry, and I wanted to expose them to that,” King said. “This trip is giving them exposure to the more macro elements of our industries and business-thinking in a more intimate way.”

The leadership program kicks off with the spring trip and ends in the fall with students from the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership at Howard University attending the annual Spirit of Hospitality Summit. This one-of-a-kind program enables HTM students to collaborate closely with Howard University students through exclusive workshops and talks with executives, campus visits, networking opportunities, and leadership development activities.

“The Howard students getting to come here and our students getting to go there is a really unique experience because neither student has really seen the other university like they’re going to see it through this lens,” said Maggy Leitch, director of industry engagement and professional development in HTM. “This is visiting on another level. You’re visiting and interacting, networking, and doing workshop classes together with peers that are very like-minded in their vision of leadership but also so different in how they’re getting there, from completely different backgrounds and interests. All of them saw this mesh of how leadership plays into their life and their future.”

The vision for the trip began in spring 2023 when King spoke at an alumni event at Marriott’s global headquarters with the College of Health and Human Sciences. She was inspired to give HTM students the chance to be immersed in a corporate hospitality setting and saw the opportunity to collaborate with Howard University’s Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership.

A group of students pose outside of a building, smiling.

Purdue HTM students pose for a photo together in Washington, D.C.(Photo provided)

Isa Villeda, a senior in HTM, noted the opportunity to network with Howard University students, Marriott executives and fellow Purdue HTM students from the four undergraduate majors helped her feel more connected to the industry and build valuable relationships for her future.

“Those trips are very wholesome because you have deep conversations with people who are as passionate and involved as you are,” Villeda said. “Putting yourself out there is always helpful, and I felt I was able to make a mark on the trip, getting involved in conversations, or raising my hand and asking insightful questions.”

From multicultural affairs to brand management and beyond, students heard from a variety of Marriott’s leaders about the different aspects of the company. For Amira Garwood, a junior in HTM studying financial counseling and planning, she was particularly interested in learning about revenue management in the company.

“I thought it was really cool to broaden my perspective and understanding of the industry itself,” Garwood said. “I love the industry, but I’m not really sure where I fall in it yet, so just putting your toes in the water in other areas like hospitality, where there’s the revenue management for the hotels and all of these other things you can do financially with the hospitality industry, it really shows that there’s so many other paths you can take in financial planning that’s not just being an advisor.”

An important component of the program was working with Christelle Mutombo, assistant director in Purdue’s Roger C. Stewart Leadership and Professional Development Department, on CliftonStrengths talent assessments to help students understand their strengths and develop goals for ways to integrate them into their summer experiences. For Emily Paiz, a junior in HTM, the experience allowed her to better understand her fit in the industry and how she can collaborate with others in the future.

“That was such a privilege to be able to get hands-on experience, hear specifically why my strengths work for the hospitality industry and talk to people who also have similar drive in what they do,” Paiz said. “It was really awesome.”

One particular highlight of the trip was hearing from David Marriott, chairman of the board at Marriott International, in a fireside chat. The talk gave students an insider’s look into the family-owned company and the process for working their way up in the industry.

“Meeting David Marriott and seeing how humble he was was very interesting to me,” said Gavin Corley, a senior in HTM. “After he was done speaking to us, he made sure to go through and shake hands with every student. He went out of his way to introduce himself, which is something you don’t see a lot of executives do after they talk to groups of people.”

As HTM continues to shape a select group of students through this experience, the competitive opportunity will be part of a developing leadership and honors program within the school, allowing some of HTM’s top talent to further develop their leadership skills.

Ultimately King and Leitch echoed that they hope through this experience, students will see opportunities for themselves to one day achieve these leadership roles.

“It was definitely a little bit humbling to see the top positions in Marriott, but it also gave me a little bit of faith that I can get there at some point,” Villeda said.