Organization provides hospitality experienceBy Francie Johnson | 06/24/2014 5:37pm
To encourage its members to reach outside their comfort zones and explore unfamiliar territory, UA Meeting Professionals International, a club focused on providing practical experience in the events and hospitality industries, has one motto: Say yes.
“If you truly want something, you can have it, but you must take risks to get there,” said Mary Hogan, a senior majoring in hospitality management and the MPI Leadership Mentor. “[You have to] say ‘Yes’ to opportunities, because they do not come often. UA Meeting Professionals International wants students to follow their dreams, therefore we provide them the tools to do just that.”
Meeting Professionals International, founded in 1972, is a professional organization for members of the meetings, events and hospitality industries. According to the organization’s website, MPI is home to more than 18,500 members across the globe.
Because there is no Alabama chapter in MPI, The University of Alabama MPI club and its 50 members reside under the Georgia chapter, one of 70 chapters worldwide. Lorie Tuma, former University of Alabama professor and UA MPI faculty advisor, brought the club to the University in fall 2012 after having been a professor and the MPI faculty advisor at Central Michigan University.
“Dr. Tuma showed that she truly cared about us students and our future at that first meeting,” Hogan said. “She provided us her testimony about how she discovered what she wanted to do – something she had felt was impossible, but with a little courage and experience, she landed her dream job. I knew I needed to learn more from her, and I chose to become a member of UA MPI that night.”
Min’ka Lewis, president of UA MPI, joined during the club’s first semester on campus. Before becoming president last spring, she was social media chair and was responsible for managing the organization’s Twitter, Facebook and website.
To gain firsthand experience in the hospitality industry, UA MPI members receive opportunities to attend conferences and volunteer at events across the United States – and beyond. In the past, the group has worked at events such as Hangout Music Festival, the Tuscaloosa Half Marathon, NOLA Fashion Week, the Super Bowl and even the Cannes Film Festival in France.
“I went to a conference this past May, and we met people from all over America and from other countries as well that are in this industry,” Lewis, a senior majoring in consumer science, said. “They gave us advice on what to do after we graduate. I’ve met people who were the head of hotel chains, people who own their own restaurants, people who work for music companies in Nashville – I’ve met people from all over and they’re all really inspirational.”
Lewis and other MPI members also attended and volunteered at the Eventeract conference in Atlanta in April. The conference had representation from a variety of disciplines in the events and hospitality industries, including food and beverage, meeting design, décor and event design, meeting planning strategies and more.
“We learned directly from [professionals in the event planning industry] how to get there and what choices to make and how to find out what you truly want to do,” Lewis said. “Some people would say, ‘I have a degree in biology, but right now I’m a corporate planner, and I plan parties for Nike’ or, ‘I got a degree in sociology, and now I’m a convention and trade show planner.’ So it’s really interesting to learn how people use their degrees.”
Besides volunteering, MPI encompasses other activities to help its members develop professionally, including mock interviews, résumé workshops and Facebook and LinkedIn guidance.
“I have been able to coach students on professional skills and provide them with opportunities they never thought possible,” Hogan said. “I see myself in many of our members – shy, but anxious to learn – and that is what drives me. I want all students to grow like I have and reach their goals.”
Hogan said her involvement in the club has helped her develop both professionally and otherwise.
“I am a different individual today opposed to who I was when I transferred to UA,” she said. “I am confident and courageous, as well as professionally trained and experienced. UA MPI has helped me come a long way, and I cannot imagine my college career without it.”
(See also "Meetings management professor wins award")