Students Work with TD Garden, Emerson Inn + More for Tiefel Project

As was the case with this year’s Tiefel Project, changing in-person projects to virtual ones can have its advantages. The 2020-2021 annual Tiefel Project was adapted to online due to complications from Covid-19. This revised, temporary version of the project ended up providing the opportunity for 33 College of Hospitality Management (COHM) students to participate, gaining invaluable industry experience.

The students were led by 3 COHM faculty to undertake 4 unique Directed Experiential Education (DEE) courses during the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, culminating into the 2020-2021 Tiefel Project.

Unique to JWU, DEEs provide real-world work experience through project-based opportunities for faculty and students to respond to industry partners’ needs through research and inquiry. The DEEs are consistent with the mission of the Tiefel Project, which seeks to engage faculty and students with industry professionals by exploring critical and emerging issues within the hospitality sector.

The industry partners for the Tiefel Project DEEs were BODYARMOR, The Emerson Inn, TD Garden and Viva Chicken. Collectively these organizations cover the major hospitality industry segments (travel and tourism, food and beverage, entertainment, sports and recreation, and meetings and events). The specific projects the partner organizations posed varied greatly and challenged the student and faculty teams to put their creativity, critical thinking and perseverance to the test.

Description of Viva Chicken presentation contents

Viva Chicken

Lecturer Emily Reaves '12, '14 MBA, led the Fall 2020 DEE with Viva Chicken, a fast-casual "Peruvian Rotisserie Joint" restaurant chain with dine-in and take-out options at locations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Utah. The student and faculty team worked with Viva's Gerald Pulsinelli, CEO, and Rob Kendall, VP of HR and Development on 2 different projects.

Exploring diversity and inclusion

Students reached out to Viva representatives, conducted research and proposed recommendations and solutions for recruiting, hiring, training and employee retention. Their recommendations included:

  • Promoting an inclusive environment with a process for staff to voice their concerns and for problems to be handled and solved professionally.
  • Creating an employee feedback survey for suggested improvements regarding respect, communication, teamwork and inclusivity.

Curbside and "to go" services

Students' suggestions for streamlining this important aspect of Viva's business included:
  • Adding more food items that take less time to cook and stay well longer, not having to be eaten immediately
  • Adding more "quick and easy family bundle" specials for curbside pickup

"Students focused on what they could implement quickly," noted Reaves. "They also included a lot of best practices that other hospitality organizations were offering at that time in 2020. … The client was incredibly happy with the work done by students."

 Graphic: Body Armor presentation, slide II


Associate Professor Patrick Stack, led the DEE with BODYARMOR in Spring 2021. The fast-growing sports drink company employs endorsement deals with partners, including famous athletes and other celebrities, to raise its profile and consumer interest. Stack’s class was tasked with finding additional, new partners and worked directly with Donald Rouse '09, a JWU alum who handles sports partnerships at BODYARMOR.

After conducting substantial online research, primarily focused on social media profiles, the students proposed one new partner for each of 3 categories: lifestyle, athletics and events. "Of the original 9 recommendations, the team was on point with their recommendations. Their suggestions were for celebrities BODYARMOR had actually already taken a look at," said Stack, praising the students’ work.

"It felt like we were pitching to Don in a real business meeting, which is exactly the goal of a DEE — to embed skills that weve learned at JWU into our professional careers. It was a great experience," said student Mary Kate Tatto'21.

Graphic and information about suggested sanitization and booking procedures for TD Garden.

TD Garden

Associate Professor Julie Viscardi-Smalley worked with TD Garden representative Brent Dassatti who handles corporate partnerships for the organization. Viscardi-Smalley was incredibly excited to work with TD Garden and the Boston Bruins since JWU serves as their official education partner.

The Garden’s challenge for students for the Fall 2020 DEE was to develop ideas for its reopening in 2021 after temporarily closing due to Covid-19. Once they had finished in-depth research, students presented ideas and suggestions to Dassatti related to several relevant topics, including cleaning and disinfecting, social distancing, contact tracing, employee confidence, adequate staffing, streamlining guest experiences, generating revenue, and developing new, safe drive-through events.

"Our class grew together as a dedicated team as we worked on this …When students pitched some event ideas — such as a drive-through Escape Room and a drive-through holiday light show — the TD Garden representatives were crunching numbers. That was great! For our class to hear industry professionals talking about how they might use the research we presented is exactly why these experiences are so valuable for the students. I was so pleased to have been able to work with these students and so proud of their achievements," said Viscardi-Smalley.

Tiefel Project slide: Emerson Inn strategy graphic

The Emerson Inn

Viscardi-Smalley also led the Spring 2021 DEE with The Emerson Inn in Rockport, Massachusetts. The challenge posed by the resort’s owner, Kimberly Voltero, was to help her obtain a high number of overnight accommodations with the highest profit possible and the most incredible guest experiences — not an easy feat.

The project was split into 3 categories: internal operations, amenities and social media marketing. The research done and the resulting ideas and solutions from students included options for everything from property management systems and vendors, to hotel loyalty programs and a social media marketing plan.

Viscardi-Smalley knew the class’ final presentation was a hit with Voltero when she complimented students by inviting them to contact her if they were looking for work. Rich Wiscott, Ph.D., vice provost for academic affairs at JWU, was also impressed with the students’ final project. "I’ve worked with student consultants and outside paid consultants for many decades and have rarely seen the quality of work done for The Emerson Inn project."

closeup of Tiefel Project pin

Tiefel Project Pinning Ceremony

The students from all 4 DEEs were designated as Tiefel Student Scholars and the 3 faculty members were designated as Tiefel Faculty Fellows. All were virtually presented with Tiefel Project pins.

Jennifer Galipeau, Ed.D., associate provost for academic affairs, congratulated the students on their outstanding work and on becoming the 3rd group of Tiefel scholars. "We ask you to wear your Tiefel pin proudly throughout your career as a symbol of your dedication to the hospitality profession and lifelong affinity with Johnson & Wales University from this day forward. Remember, you will forever be a Tiefel scholar. Congratulations! We could not be prouder of you."

The Tiefel Project: Past and Present

William "Bill" Tiefel, '98 Hon., a hospitality industry icon and longtime Marriott executive, sponsored JWU's first endowed chair 15 years ago. Tiefel, a staunch advocate for higher education, championed the program that connected industry professionals with college students, particularly those with an interest in hotel management and travel-tourism. After more than a decade of Tiefel Professors, Tiefel decided it was time to reassess the purpose of the Chair, both to ensure its ongoing relevance as a teaching tool and to keep up with changing technologies and consumer demands. In response, the university proposed a revamped Tiefel Project that launched in the 2018-2019 academic year. New pathways were explored to transform the Tiefel Chair, which until then had been a one-day event for students and faculty held independently at each JWU campus. The result was the Tiefel Project, a comprehensive, academic year endeavor that centers on a current issue affecting the hospitality industry. The theme for the 2018-19 Tiefel Project was "Diversity Issues in the Hospitality Industry." Tiefel Student Scholars and Tiefel Faculty Fellows from each JWU campus convened in-person and with the first Tiefel Industry Professional, Apoorva Gandhi, vice president for Multi-Cultural Affairs for Marriott International.

The 2020-2021 Tiefel Project forged ahead despite obstacles that arose due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The end result, with all aspects held virtually, was a major success for all involved.

Related Reading

JWU’s Tiefel Project Examines Hospitality Diversity Programs

Explore JWU’s College of Hospitality Management