Cornell Hotel Society Collegiate Chapter President Michael Baldyga ’19 was fortunate to speak with School of Hotel Administration Dean Kate Walsh Ph.D., a graduate of the SHA MPS program in 1990.
Was there any particular story/moment when you first knew what it meant to be a Hotelie? If so, could you please share?
I would go back to my graduate student days nearly 30 years ago. I knew what it was like to be a Hotelie the very first day I walked into Statler Hall. Faculty were right there to welcome us home. I felt their hospitality from the start and it was infectious. Within a week, my small class of thirty-five was a bonded group, and we’ve stayed that way ever since. In my first semester as an MPS student I was a TA for an organizational behavior class and one of the first things we did was help freshmen participate in service work in the community. That combination of bonding with my class and learning to be other-centered was special. Being a Hotelie is being part of a community that cares.
What does it mean to be a Hotelie for Life®?
Being a Hotelie for Life is something that is sort of both in your head and in your heart. You carry it with you and you take it upon yourself to help other people be more successful in what they do. You pay it forward.
What has been your favorite Hotelie for Life® moment?
I love the closing banquet for HEC when all of the students who volunteered during the weekend, come around the stage and are high-fived by the executive team, in front of the whole an applauding community of alumni, faculty and staff. HEC takes so much organization and work. And it all comes together beautifully, every time. That’s a special one for me.
Whether on campus or when I go to Hotelie or CHS events, I see our alumni taking the students under their wings always – these are all Hotelie for Life moments.
Who, if anyone, has most shaped your definition of Hotelie for Life®? How?
Just about everyone. All the people – the alumni who care deeply, the students who are doing amazing things, and especially the faculty and staff who teach, and mentor and just give their time and attention to all our students – it gets reinforced just about every day. It’s a spectacular virtuous cycle.
In what ways has the student body changed since you were a student here? Stayed the same?
There’s something about Hotelies, their other-centeredness and graciousness. It is a service mindset. It’s about helping somebody else have a better day. That is what I still see in our students. When you bring together really smart students, who are also so emotionally intelligent and caring, that makes for a very special place. Our Hotelie community is like a family within Cornell. All of our students at Cornell are smart and accomplished, but there is just an essence of giving, of generosity, of being a great colleague that defines our hotelies. We cultivate that with our core curriculum. When you bring all of our students together in a shared project or experience, it’s really powerful.
What is your favorite spot in Statler? or Cornell? Why?
I love the Hersha Center, which is the space for Establishment, our student-run restaurant. I feel like magic happens there every night. It’s amazing what students create in a dining experience. It epitomizes who we are as a School. It’s a space that has heart and soul.
When students introduce themselves in class or extracurricular meetings, oftentimes they are asked to provide a fun fact. What is your fun fact?
I grew up with five brothers and no sisters. Growing up as one of six kids, you learn to live with lots of chaos, so it sure prepared me for the world of service-based work. As luck would have it, my husband and I have three sons, so I’m looking forward to the day when I get a daughter-in-law!
Is there anything else you would like to share with Hotelies? Or that you think would be helpful for this campaign?
Hotelies are amazing people. I see it all the time in my travels, wherever I go. Our alumni are so gracious, welcoming and fun. We all share a deep passion for the school, but our alumni use that passion more strongly link our school with our industry. We call our alumni our secret sauce. I don’t know any other school for hospitality or business, for that matter, that can quite replicate our magic. Someone once said that our school is the hub of the industry ecosystem, and it really is. All of us at SHA are deeply grateful to be supported by such a powerful community.
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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.