Fritz Knoebel faculty and staff prioritize in-person presence
The hospitality industry was one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic and the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management felt it.
“The industry was collapsing around our students,” said Lauren Sepúlveda, associate director of student services at Fritz Knoebel. “We provided more emotional support and counseling to our students than ever before.”
In response to a devastating end to the spring quarter and a quiet summer, Fritz Knoebel faculty and staff made the decision to return to campus in the fall of 2020.
“I’ve been in higher education for a long time now and I was impressed with the way DU handled the situation,” Sepúlveda said. “I felt so safe returning to campus.”
While no one was forced to return, David Corsun, director of Fritz Knoebel, encouraged the faculty and staff to be present for their students.
“At a time when people searched for connection and a sense of normalcy, we knew we needed to be face to face for each other and for our students. The sense of community is essential to the Fritz experience,” Corsun said.
Duke Mahr, senior hospitality major, was impressed by the level of personal support by Fritz Knoebel faculty and staff. When a student had to quarantine, staff would offer to drop off groceries or send takeout.
“They focused on us as human beings first and as students second,” said Mahr.
Casey Arakaki, senior hospitality major, went back to Hawaii last spring when everything moved to a virtual environment. She returned to campus in the fall.
“I’m so grateful we’ve been able to have in-person learning,” she said. “I know I learn far more when I’m in the classroom.”
Cheri Young, associate professor of hospitality management, says the increase in learning that happens in person is vital.
“Learning doesn’t just take place between the professor and the student,” Young said. “Those social connections before and after class are crucial to learning.”
Getting back into a rhythm has been crucial for the mental health of the tightly knit Fritz Knoebel community.
“Students needed to feel they were still moving forward in their life,” Young said. “It’s been a way to maintain normalcy when nothing seems normal. It’s made them feel like they really have a community here.”
The return to campus was also an outward look toward the future for Fritz Knoebel and the hospitality industry as a whole.
“The hospitality industry was looking to us and it was our job to support our students—otherwise the industry doesn’t have anywhere to hire from,” said Sepúlveda.
The support has taken students far. Despite industry struggles, almost all juniors have been placed in internships for the summer, and 70% of seniors already have jobs waiting for them come June.
Sepúlveda is hopeful: “We’re confident we’ll see more than 80% [of our students with jobs secured] come graduation day.”