The 1st hospitality graduates reflect on the program

In early December, Stephanie Smith and Marion Franklin Smith III became the first graduates of the University of Arkansas Hospitality and Tourism Management degree program at Pine Bluff.

The program prepares students for high-level management and supervisory positions in restaurant operations, the tourism industry, event planning, hotel administration, and other operational and administrative roles.

“It was a pleasure to have these two students as the new program burgeoned and grew,” said Suzzette Goldmon, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of UAPB’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Program. “They were flexible during the pandemic, but eager to return to class and complete their degree programs. Both students worked hard and were able to manage their time well with classes, homework, student organization, and school activities. campus. I am thrilled that they have both agreed to be Host Program Ambassadors and help with future recruitment and programming. They are a great inaugural duo for our program.


Stephanie Smith said her education at UAPB gave her success in running her own business, S and S Catering and Events. In her work, she plans and provides catering services for events such as baby showers, proms, private parties, college alumni events, sorority gatherings, Super Bowl events and church functions. .

“My passion has always been cooking, but I never imagined in my life that I would be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management,” she said. “I have always had an interest and a desire for this field. My mother was my greatest cheerleader and she was the one who influenced me in choosing this career.”

Stephanie Smith said she always found pleasure in cooking for others.

“I love cooking meals for family members and guests,” she said. “I’m delighted to see them happy and to chat with each other over dinner. It’s also gratifying to hear them talk about how well I prepared and presented it.”

Stephanie Smith said her decision to start her own business was also influenced by her experience decorating religious events on special occasions.

“Guests were so amazed at how everything looked – so later on I started getting offers to organize small events for others. Boom – it suddenly became a business,” he said. she stated.

Stephanie Smith said she had to overcome some challenges during her studies. When the going got tough, she and her classmates supported and encouraged each other.

“Pursuing my degree during the pandemic was the most difficult – not knowing what to expect and continuing my studies without being in class was difficult,” she said. “Some days I wanted to quit, but I reminded myself that my goal of graduating was something I was doing for myself. I knew I would never quit without a struggle, and I also knew that I had what it took.” takes to graduate and work in this industry.”

Stephanie Smith said she recommends students who are undecided in their major to consider pursuing a degree in hospitality and tourism management.

“This field has so many areas you can work in – hotels, resorts, cruise ships, airports and restaurants, to name a few,” she said. “If you want to travel the world, you can find a way with this degree.”

Stephanie Smith said she is currently using the knowledge she gained at UAPB to grow her business. She is in the process of buying a building where she can host events. Eventually, she wants to organize workshops to teach eating etiquette.

“What I learned from Dr. Goldmon at UAPB is that there is no such thing as a perfect self – it’s just important to always do your best,” she said. “During my studies, I learned more about who I am and what is expected of me as an entrepreneur, as well as how to deal with people from all walks of life. My instructors at UAPB have prepared me to be a successful business owner.”

Marion Franklin Smith III: Opportunities in Lodging and Beyond

Marion Franklin Smith III began studying hospitality and tourism management when he was in high school and concurrently studying at Arkansas State University of the Mid-South in West Memphis.

“At the time, I was the only student in the class,” he says. “It really gave me a one-on-one connection to the industry. I got hands-on experience at Southland Casino, which sponsored the university’s hospitality program. That’s what inspired me to pursue my studies in Hospitality and Tourism Management at UAPB.”

During her studies, Marion Smith faced several challenges, including health issues, difficulties in paying for books, and maintaining a steady living situation.

“Switching from in-person to online classes was difficult for me,” he said. “In rural areas, broadband is a rarity. I also endured stress and anxiety throughout college, but I made it. Keeping God first and knowing you’re not only there will help you to persevere until the end.”

Marilyn Bailey, acting chair of the Department of Humanities, recalls Marion Smith sharing some of the worries he faced about his graduation schedule.

“With encouragement, Mr. Smith kept going,” she said. “Within the department, the professors worked hand in hand with me to reinforce the resources necessary for his academic success.”

Marion Smith said he appreciated the support he received from his professors and advisors at UAPB.

“It’s great to know that your instructors and department heads are there for you,” he said. “UAPB provides students with great experiences to develop their interest in the hospitality industry. Our department has offered membership in the National Minorities in Hospitality Society and the Kappa Omicron Nu Human Sciences Honor Society. Both organizations are not only beneficial to college, but also open up a source of networking in the future.”

As graduation approached, Marion Smith began to feel excited about what he had accomplished.

“During the fall semester of 2022, I had the chance to celebrate my accomplishments,” he said. “Knowing that you’re the first to graduate from college in your entire family – and as the youngest member of the family – is mind-blowing. It’s the excitement of feeling like you’ve accomplished something.”

Marion Smith currently works for the Vue Hospitality Group and maintains two jobs. He is the front desk representative at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in White Hall and front desk manager at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Pine Bluff. In addition to providing customer service and managing guest arrivals and departures, some of his responsibilities include reservations and negotiating group contracts.

“I serve all guests with genuine hospitality and greet everyone with a smile,” he said. “Problem solving is a key skill to have in this field. Working for different hotel brands, I’m able to see how important customer loyalty is. I love hearing about customer travel experiences. I always talk to guests to see how I can make their next stay even better.”

In the future, Marion Smith plans to pursue a graduate degree in hospitality and tourism management. For now, he wants to focus on his rise in the accommodation industry and gaining a reputation that offers him a wide range of career opportunities. For example, he hopes to one day work in the accommodation areas of some of the nation’s major amusement parks.

“Since I come from a rural town, I want to strengthen the travel and tourism industry in rural areas,” he said. “I want to generate revenue in these areas to help rebuild their communities. I plan to create a company where we bring out true hospitality in various areas of the hospitality industry: accommodation, transportation and catering.”

He expressed interest in the work of the Rural Community Alliance. The organization aims to empower rural communities to effect change by creating opportunities in education, economic development and youth empowerment to improve the quality of life and place.

“For me, the Rural Community Alliance shares my vision of empowering rural communities,” he said. “In the future, I plan to become a politician. I want to fight for change in rural communities.”

Marion Smith said he finds his motivation in remembering that the world has more to offer than meets the eye.

Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at UAPB’s School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities.

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