First UAPB Graduates of Hospitality/Tourism Management Reflect on Studies

Marion Franklin Smith III and Stephanie Smith

At commencement in December 2022, Stephanie Smith and Marion Franklin Smith III became the first graduates of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s (UAPB) degree program in hospitality and tourism management. The program prepares students for managerial and high-level supervisory positions in restaurant operations, the tourism industry, event planning, hotel administration and other operational and administrative roles.

“It was a delight to have these two students as the new program budded and grew,” Dr. Suzzette Goldmon, assistant professor and coordinator for UAPB’s hospitality and tourism management program, said. “They were flexible during the pandemic, yet eager to return to classes and complete their degree programs. Both students worked and were able to manage their time well with classes, assignments, the student organization and campus activities. I am excited they both have agreed to be hospitality program ambassadors and assist with recruiting and programming in the future. They are an awesome inaugural duo for our program.”

Stephanie Smith: Using Her Education to Start a Local Business

Smith said her education at UAPB has allowed her to achieve 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, university 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 pursue a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management,” she said. “I always had an interest and desire for this area. My mother was my biggest cheerleader and was the one who influenced me in choosing this career.”

Smith said she has always found joy in cooking for others.

“I love preparing meals for family members and guests,” she said. “I get a thrill from seeing them happy and chatting with each other over the course of the dinner. It is also rewarding to hear them say how well I prepared and presented it.”

Smith said her decision to start her own business was also influenced by her experience helping decorate for church events on special occasions.

“Guests would be so amazed at how everything looked – so, later I started getting offers to do small events for others. Boom – it suddenly became a business.”

Smith said she had to overcome some challenges over the course of 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 challenging – not knowing what to expect and continuing my studies without being in the classroom was difficult,” she said. “Some days, I wanted to give up, but I reminded myself that my goal of earning my degree was something I was doing for myself. I knew that I would never give up without a struggle, and I also knew that I had what it takes to graduate and work in this industry.”

Smith said she recommends college students undecided in their major consider earning a degree in hospitality and tourism management.

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

Smith said she is currently using the knowledge she gained at UAPB to grow her business. She is in the process of purchasing a building where she will be able to host events. Eventually, she wants to organize workshops to teach dining etiquette.

“What I learned from Dr. Goldmon at UAPB is there is no perfect you – it is just important to always give 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 aspects of life. My instructors at UAPB prepared me to be a successful business owner.”

Marion Franklin Smith III: Ambitiously Pursuing Opportunities in Lodging and Beyond

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

“At the time, I was the only student in the class,” he said. “This really gave me the one-on-one connection with the industry. I gained hands-on experience at Southland Casino, which sponsored the university’s hospitality program. This is what influenced me to continue my studies in hospitality and tourism management at UAPB.”

During his studies, Smith had to deal with several challenges including health issues, difficulty in paying for books and maintaining a consistent living situation.

“Going from in-person classes to online classes was difficult for me,” he said. “In rural areas, broadband is a scarcity. I also endured stress and anxiety throughout college, but I made it through. Keeping God first and knowing you are not out there alone will help you persevere to the end.”

Dr. Marilyn Bailey, interim chair of the Department of Human Sciences, recalls Smith sharing some of the worries he faced about his graduation timeline.

“With encouragement, Mr. Smith kept pressing forward,” she said. “Within the department, faculty worked should-to-shoulder with me to shore up resources to support his academic success.”

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

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

As he neared graduation, Smith began to feel excited about what he accomplished.

“During the Fall 2022 semester, I had the chance to celebrate my accomplishments,” he said. “Knowing you are the first to complete college out of your entire family – and as the youngest family member – is mind-blowing. It’s the excitement of feeling you have accomplished something.”

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

“I serve all guests with true hospitality and greet everyone with a smile,” he said. “Problem solving is a key skill to have working in this field. While working for different hotel brands, I am able to see how important guest loyalty is. I enjoy hearing the guests’ travel experiences. I always talk to the guest to see how I can make their next stay even better.”

In the future, Smith plans on earning a graduate degree in hospitality and tourism management. For now, he wants to focus on working his way up the lodging industry and earn a reputation that gives him a broad array of career possibilities. For example, someday he hopes to work at the lodging areas of some of the country’s major amusement parks.

“Given that I come from a rural town, I want to enhance the travel and tourism sector in rural areas,” he said. “I want to bring revenue to those areas to help rebuild their communities. I plan to start a cooperation where we will bring out the true hospitality in various sectors of the hospitality industry: lodging, transportation and food service.”

He said he is interested 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 quality of life and place.

“To me, the Rural Community Alliance shares my vision of empowering rural communities,” he said. “In the future, I plan on becoming a politician. I want to fight to bring change to rural communities.”

Smith said he finds motivation in reminding himself that the world has more to offer than what one can see at first glance.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

2 thoughts on “First UAPB Graduates of Hospitality/Tourism Management Reflect on Studies

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