Miami is a city on the rise, and hospitality is one of its most dynamic industries. Almost daily, new bars and restaurants open to feed the ever-growing local community and nourish visitors who come for a bit of pleasure under the Florida sun.
As the city's hospitality industry continues to flourish, it constantly needs new talent to drive it forward. Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management has helped to train the next generation of industry leaders for half a century. According to Michael Cheng, the Chaplin School's Dean, the goal is clear: to give students the tools they need to be successful.
"We have always focused on making sure that our students get the latest, most relevant, most current knowledge," says Cheng.
The faculty are tasked with having a current curriculum incorporating the industry's latest trends. Cheng explains that the university gets continuous feedback from advisory board members and alumni, adding that Chaplin has always hired a "mix and match" faculty body where academically qualified professors teach more theoretical classes and professors with industry experience bring real-time knowledge into the classroom.
In past semesters, big industry names have taken on the instructor role, such as David Grutman from Groot Hospitality, with a class entitled "The David Grutman Experience."
Another big name in the Miami hospitality industry and Chaplin School graduate is Matthew Kuscher from Kush Hospitality. He returned to his alma mater to teach a restaurant development class alongside Dean Cheng.
To Kuscher, the Chaplin School provided mentors and a structure with classes that made sense to him and motivated him to seek out the industry and ultimately find his passion.
"It did change my life," says Kuscher. "And so I have a lot of pride for FIU. I developed my first restaurant while I was at FIU in one of my classes. I never opened up that restaurant, but it got me thinking of how to open up a restaurant."
Today his success is reflected in his nine different restaurants. Regardless of the new concepts he comes up with, Kuscher says it is important to him always to have a little bit of Miami history in them.
Part of the alumni success also comes from events FIU has created where students get first-hand industry experiences, such as the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, where about 1,200 FIU students work alongside noted chefs and celebrities, and the North Miami Brewfest, where students brew beer and present them to guests alongside established breweries.
"These are the kind of impacts that we have," says Cheng. "And I think continuing to stay engaged to industry puts us at the forefront of many employers' minds, you know, so whenever they're looking for new talent or expansion of their company, we're the first ones they call."
The dean's focus on opening enough doors to allow students to succeed also has funding in mind.
"We recognize today a lot of students are aspiring entrepreneurs, and they would like to start their own business, but that requires financial capital," he says. "We are trying to create an ecosystem where students can get connected to the right people and then figure out and learn how to actually tap into that capital to get them off the ground."
Cheng still feels like there is always more the university can do to help the students and alumni succeed.
"I look at it as we have 1,600 students currently enrolled at the Chaplin school, and if we can make sure that 1,600 graduate and that they're successful, then we have done our job correctly."
Cheng acknowledges that success doesn't look the same for every student, and all pathways will be different, but he believes the school will prepare them to choose whatever fulfills them in life.
"Hospitality is a very broad skill set and is applicable in a lot of different industries," he explains. "So we like to say that we're preparing them to be successful in life, no matter their passion."