Michigan State University (MSU) senior Chloe Lee’s origins are rooted in where she likes to call “the New York City of Korea.”
“Coming from Seoul to Michigan, I did not know what to expect,” she says. “I was only 15 when I arrived in Ann Arbor, where I spent five years. Everything was so different: the food, people, culture and all the things I saw outside of my window. When I came to MSU, the first thing I thought was, ‘Wow, this is big school.’ MSU was basically the whole city of East Lansing.”
She arrived to MSU in 2014 to study hospitality business (HB), hoping to prepare herself for some big-city dreams.
Lee did eventually adjust to the change in environment and went on to keep herself quite busy. A full-time student and teaching assistant, she is also a veteran of the hospitality professional development program offered by the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center, a unit within MSU’s Spartan Hospitality Group (SHG).
“Traveling and planning social occasions has always fascinated me ever since I was a child,” she says. It came naturally to her, as she traced this love back to her days spent in admiration of her great-grandmother’s prosperous Hot Spring Tourism Hotel in South Korea.
“I realized I genuinely enjoyed socializing with new people and making sure everyone has a great time to the best of my ability,” Lee says of her past. “Exchanging different perspectives and past experiences with the guests from all around the world, learning world geography and greetings in different languages, as well as cultures, were some of my favorite memories from childhood.” The natural next step for Lee was to apply to a professional development program to cultivate her early life’s passion and find where it would take her. Lee had yet to explore her niche within the expansive world of hospitality.
Open to current Kellogg and other SHG team members, the Hospitality Professional Development Program is a 10-week experience designed to familiarize students with varying facets of hotel management.
Lee was one of two students selected for the semester-long adventure. SHG Human Resources Manager and Lee’s mentor, Jill Respecki, says Lee was equipped to succeed because of her past internships as well as being the recipient of the Winegardner and Hammons Hotel Student Endowed Scholarship award.
“She consistently exhibited a great attitude and desire to learn about all aspects of hospitality,” Respecki says of her mentee.
The development program is unique in that every week, student participants shift job roles within Kellogg. Respecki says the structure gives students unique, outside of-the-classroom education by exposing them to exclusive parts of the hotel industry and granting them the ability to access the entire hotel management team so students can ask questions and continue to learn about the trade.
“Without this, they would not know all the positions and opportunities available to them,” she says.
For Lee, she fell in love with every profession she got to try. “It’s just the matter of finding the one I love more,” she says, chuckling. From housekeeping, sales, engineering, general manager duties, and food and beverage service, Lee expressed her gratitude for the versatility of the training.
She most fondly looks back on one seemingly small moment during her time in the program: a walk from Kellogg to the Breslin Student Events Center with fellow sales team colleagues for a staff meeting. The trek lasted no more than 10 minutes, but with each step she felt a greater sense of belonging. And as she crossed the Red Cedar River and participated avidly in the discussion, rushing feelings of equality, appreciation and acceptance came over her.
“I got to learn more things as I was watching them communicating with their clients, and that was the moment when I realized this is what I would like to do in my future,” she says. “I felt very professional and realized this is what I will be doing when I graduate and step into the real world. Everyone made me feel welcome and constantly involved me into the conversation.”
There was one goal Lee set for herself when she began her time at Kellogg, and it was to gain an understanding of which division she wanted to work in when she took off on her big-city journey.
Fortunately for Lee, her mentor says it’s common for students to find their way professionally after completing the program.
“It gives students exposure to all the areas in the hotel so they can see what area they are most interested in to pursue their career,” Respecki says. “It builds their resume and sets them apart from other hospitality graduates, helping them secure their first job after graduation.”
Because of an especially notable and skillful experience with Kellogg’s sales department, Lee is pursuing her aspirations with a more comfortable idea of what her future looks like. After graduation in December, she plans to move to her favorite city of Chicago to make her big-city dreams come true.
“Chicago gives me a new experience every time I visit,” she says. “It is heaven for hospitality business students as well, with many opportunities waiting for us.”
As far as long-term goals, Lee sees herself one day soon becoming a general manager within the hotel industry to “fulfill that powerful role as a female.”