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Meet Hospitality Education Expert, John Murtha

John Murtha is the Area Managing Director & General Manager, Omni Hotels

John Murtha graduated from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Hospitality Management Program in 1975 and went on to establish himself as a leader and expert in the hospitality field. A 40-year veteran of the industry, today John is the Area Management Director and General Manager of Omni Hotels. As a proud alumnus, John has hired literally dozens of UNH grads over his years in the business, citing the high quality of the program’s chief “output”…its students.

John also points to the value of a strong hospitality education and a reputable degree on the path of success. This proved true not just for John, but for other notable UNH grads like Lloyd Farwell — who launched Hilton’s franchise business back in the ‘60s  — and James Nassikas — who founded San Francisco’s Stanford Court Hotel in the early ‘70s. More recently, John notes, UNH grad Joe Faro of Tuscan Brands in New Hampshire launched a successful start-up venture producing and distributing pasta products that ultimately sold to Nestle and made him a millionaire.

Today, John is a proud member of the program’s advisory board and supports continuing development of the UNH hospitality program through time, charitable contributions, and his own hiring decisions. John notes that UNH is a smaller program when compared to others around the country, which prevents it from getting some of the attention it deserves. However, his success in the industry, and his role in helping so many other UNH grads advance in their hospitality careers, is a testament to the value of an excellent hospitality degree program.

Or read on for our conversation with John Murtha, and find out what life is like as a hospitality student from somebody who’s been there!

Answers to Our Hospitality Education Questions

 What are some of the advantages online students enjoy over traditional students?

John Murtha: Online courses provide students with the option of continuing to engage with the program when school is not in session, or provide opportunities during a semester that rigid class schedules might not otherwise permit. They also compel students to work independently and improve time management skills that will better organize their work load and day-to-day schedule, and improve their readiness to join the work force upon graduation. The Program also offers “Learn and Earn” Co-Op experiences that utilize both online courses paired with internships and other work experiences throughout the year.

 What are some common challenges students face? Any advice on meeting the challenges of a degree, job, or career?

John Murtha: The primary challenge faced by hospitality management students is the academic rigor of the curriculum, a result of the program being part of the business college with very high standards. Overcoming these challenges requires focus and dedication to achieving good grades, making sure to use all the resources offered by the program and the college to assist students along the way. A secondary challenge faced by hospitality students is determining which hospitality “track” makes the most sense for them to pursue in school so that upon graduation they have been fully exposed to their preferred career option in either lodging, restaurant/food & beverage or event management.

The Program assists students with these challenges through the three required professional development courses [freshmen, sophomore, and junior] and alumni mentoring. Each of these has special attributes designed to ensure student success. For example, the professional development courses provide state of the art industry training, in areas such as STRENGTHSFINDER 2.0 by Gallup, S.T.A.R. interviewing techniques, and course assignments to hone time management skills.

 What kind of practical education or training do your students receive that apply in real workplace settings?

John Murtha: The program requires each student to complete an 800-hour practicum experience during their time at UNH, which includes at least one professional 400 hour internship. These experiences must be approved in advance by the faculty member heading the professional development effort, to insure that the experience would appropriately prepare the student for their first position in the industry following graduation.

Also, all students are required to take the senior operations course which culminates in creating and serving two dinners and a Sunday brunch open to the public. Commonly known as the “Gourmet Dinner” course, students are completely responsible for producing the three events over a weekend, all the while practicing administrative, marketing, financial, human resources and on-the-floor service delivery functions that are identical to those they would experience working in a hotel, restaurant or catering company. This course has been a hallmark of the program for generations of students. Many graduates report that “Gourmet Dinner” was the most-remembered activity of their time spent in the hospitality program.

All students are required through relevant courses, to take and pass the CHIA exam plus receive certification in Delphi.fdc Sales and Catering Manager. In addition, through our partnership with Amadeus Hospitality, all students use the latest technology such as HOTSOS as a learning tool. This prepares them for work experience.

Finally, starting as freshmen, all program students are required to attend two career events. The first is the fall networking night and the second is the more formal spring career fair. Each of these events hosts on average 35 companies. Students are provided business cards as well. This is all part of the professional development courses offered.

 What are some of the most common or popular career paths for hospitality graduates?

John Murtha: Although UNH Hospitality Management Program roots go back to Hotel Administration, currently the graduates are well prepared for a wide variety of careers in the broader hospitality industry. Most enter the lodging [80%], with food & beverage or event management sectors also popular. Many top tier companies actively recruit on campus starting in the fall, during the networking event, continuing to the more formal career fair in spring of each year. The program proudly boasts of a 95+% placement rate for graduating seniors within six months of graduation.

 How can students improve their chances of landing a career in hospitality after earning a degree?

John Murtha: As noted earlier, our students have numerous career development initiatives available to them throughout their college career including networking opportunities, internships, field trips, job-shadowing opportunities, study-abroad programs, and the 800-hour practicum requirement. These outside-the-classroom work and other experiences are critical to readying a student to secure that “first job” and move forward with their career. It also provides students the opportunity to narrow their focus of study and ultimate choose a career direction. A particular emphasis is placed on students to have obtained on-the-job supervisory experience prior to graduation because this is an important differentiator for industry recruiters. A program faculty member is dedicated to managing the professional development program, fostering these career development initiatives and working one-on-one with students whenever they seek guidance.

Interested in a career in the hotel and restaurant biz? Check out some of the very best schools in the hospitality and culinary industry: