AAHOA Young Professional Director Eastern Division Purvi Panwala speaks at FIU


Last week, Florida International University invited AAHOA Young Professional Director Eastern Division Purvi Panwala to speak at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management on the topics of Hospitality Marketing Strategy, Hospitality Facilities Management, and Hospitality Management in general.

by: Purvi Panwala

As I arrived on the FIU campus, and I could see the students in line for their morning coffee and rushing off to their classes.

I received a warm welcome from a student executive committee of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality – Amy, Gabriel, and Christian – whose enthusiasm for the day’s agenda was contagious. They excited for the day ahead and proud to show off all that FIU has to offer. I learned that FIU is the nation’s largest majority-minority public university and prides itself on having an owner-centric entrepreneurial hospitality program, strongly supporting women, minorities, and first generation college students.

FIU classrooms have the latest technology including kitchens and labs that take education to another level. One can clearly see the university’s investments, planning, and attention to detail in all facets of their program, from its partnerships, renovations, community efforts, to its academic programs.

Some of the unique things I saw at FIU included a full state-of-the-art kitchen next to a restaurant, where classes are held and the public is invited to enjoy fine dining once a week. They have a wine cellar named after Mel Dick as an executive with Southern Glaciers. The school is named for Harvey and Wayne Chaplin and their family, Harvey having been one of the founders of Southern Wine and Spirits.

Within FIU’s auditorium-style wine tasting class, the students have sinks installed into their desks, labs to break down the exact chemical content of wine, a brewery, a test kitchen open to local business owners looking to expand their business, a closet for students to borrow professional attire for interviews, modular classrooms with smart TVs along the walls, video capabilities in each classroom with the newest technology, touchscreen TVs along the common areas, and a beautiful view of the bay on top of it all. You can clearly see FIU takes their education, experiments and community outreach seriously.

As I met different people throughout the university, I noticed a common energy in both the students and faculty alike. They all had a very strong drive and passion to keep moving forward and strive for success. Their ‘outside the box’ thinking has led them to create high profile partnerships with companies such as Badia, where students create spices which are then sold in supermarkets across the nation. They have a recipe contest with Red Robin, where the winner receives a $10,000 scholarship and the opportunity to present his or her creation at the 18th Annual Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The unparalleled opportunities FIU offers to students with these strategic partnerships are ones that change lives.

My first presentation of the day was to Hospitality Marketing, but I assure you their minds were not simply on marketing. As I went through my PowerPoint and asked the students if they had questions, the faculty and I quickly realized how hungry they were for information. I came prepared to answer marketing questions, but what these students were truly looking for ways to learn how to be an owner and how to be an entrepreneur. They understood that marketing is one aspect of it, but that only happens once you’ve started the business. What they really wanted to know is HOW does one start their own business? What are the pitfalls and challenges? How does one get financing? What steps do they need to take to get there? I was pleasantly surprised and eager to share my insight with them and help them in any way. When I talked about AAHOA and what AAHOA has to offer, it caught their attention and they realized that there is so much more to this industry than just operations, and they want a piece of it. They are hungry for the resources to learn more and become better.

In another class, I participated in a panel discussion with two other speakers, Peggy, the general manager of Dream South Beach, and George the general manager of Beach Walk Miami. The students focused on sustainability, business structures and culture. This class is scheduled to graduate in December, and their professionalism and eagerness to enter the workforce is evident.

Jay Litt, one of FIU’s first alumni, provided me with the opportunity to speak to the students at the school. His passion for educating these students is infectious. Jay can see exactly what the students are enthusiastic about and what knowledge they are craving. Not only did I teach, but I also learned so much from the education leaders there – including Simone Champagnie, Executive Director of Development at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management; Rocco, an 87 year-old retired professional that still works at the school; Michael Cheng, Interim Dean of the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management; George, a hotel owner and professor; and others.

Although the students are equipped with hospitality knowledge, many of them really want to learn how to be an entrepreneur and the steps it takes to build and create their own business. Those in charge of the future of the university are optimistic about the growth and refinement of the hospitality program, and they work hard to ensure that these students have the best opportunities and education at hand. I came away knowing that the future of the hospitality industry, an industry I love and have spent my life, is in good hands. It is a day I will never forget; thank you FIU and AAHOA.


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