Tony Thompson Discovers a Bigger Purpose in the Hospitality Classroom

By Sue McMurray

Tony Thompson, a recently appointed assistant professor of hospitality business management (career track), discovered he loved teaching by accident.

He originally joined the Carson College in 2015 as the Culver hospitality relations manager, a position dedicated to developing industry connections and coordinating internship and graduate placement opportunities. His boss, Nancy Swanger, who was then the director of the School of Hospitality Business Management, saw something special in the way he could relate to people.

“From day one she pushed me to get out of my comfort zone through public speaking and leading students in specific exercises,” he says.

One day she put him on the spot, asking him to take over her classes for a day when she had to travel. “From then on, I discovered teaching was the easiest way to have an impact on our students, and I loved it,” he says.

“Tony is a natural teacher,” says Swanger, founder and director of the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living. “He is the perfect Coug to put in front of our students to help them develop into the next generation of hospitality leaders.”

Customer service in the classroom

Thompson (’09 Soc. Sci.) worked in a variety of positions within the Carson College over the next six years before finding his way back to the classroom. He currently teaches several undergraduate hospitality business management courses, preparing freshmen through senior-level students for careers in the hospitality industry. For example, in his Hospitality Business Management 101 class, he guides beginning business students in the art of résumé and cover letter writing, interviewing, and other skills that drive professional polish.

“Some of the most rewarding experiences happened when I was able to help students who were really struggling with interviewing,” he says. “I did some mock interviews with a student and showed her how to view it as a conversation about her passions and experiences—she ended up having her pick of job offers. It’s fun to see that moment when it all clicks.”

Though he’s not in daily contact with industry leaders, he still keeps a pulse on how companies seek and build leaders. In his view, it all boils down to a strong knowledge and practice of customer service. While the hospitality school requires students to earn 1,000 hours in the hospitality industry, Thompson would love to implement deeper customer service training that could benefit any business student. “Good customer service skills can enhance anything you do,” he says. “It would be a great selling point for prospective students and potential employers of our graduates.”

Finding a larger purpose in the pandemic and the future

The ability of some hospitality businesses to pivot during the shutdown is another topic of interest that developed during the pandemic, he says. He believes this time in history creates a unique learning opportunity for hospitality majors to observe how innovation can keep an industry alive. “We can engage successful hospitality businesses leaders to help us teach students this skill in real time,” he says.

Long-term, Thompson says his goal is to complete a doctorate in leadership studies, which he feels will make him a better teacher and resource for students. “Expanding my knowledge and being able to influence students and companies—that’s my bigger purpose.”