By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
For the first time ever, HSMAI is presenting the Revenue Educator of the Year award at ROC Americas in Dallas on Sept. 29. The inaugural recipient is Dr. Breffni Noone, associate professor of hospitality management at Penn State University. Recently, Noone sat down with HSMAI to share what she loves about teaching and how her career has been shaped through the years.
How did you get into teaching?
I started working in the hospitality industry when I was 17, and immediately got bitten by the bug! I studied hospitality management for my undergrad, with the intent of getting on track for a career in hospitality management. During the final year of my undergrad, however, one of my professors, Dr. Michael Mulvey, gave a lecture in which he talked about yield management. I had always enjoyed studying both finance and operations, so my impression was that this evolving discipline might give me the opportunity to marry those disciplines together.
My interest was piqued, but at that time, there was little to no implementation of yield management in European hotels. So, after a number of years in the industry, I decided to pursue a research master’s to study the emerging field of yield management. At that time, I also accepted an offer to teach a course at my alma mater, Technological University (TU) Dublin, and unexpectedly took a first step toward my career in academia. I will never forget the feeling when I taught my first class — despite being absolutely terrified, I loved the experience!
To advance my commitment to both teaching and research in revenue management (yes, we had moved from yield to revenue by that point), my husband and I moved to the U.S., where I had the privilege of studying for my Ph.D. in revenue management with Dr. Sherri Kimes at Cornell. In my third year of the program, I got the opportunity to teach in the hospitality program at Cornell, and I knew for sure, at that point, that teaching was my passion.
I taught at Cornell for a couple of years before taking a faculty position Penn State, where this fall, I just started teaching my sixteenth year.
Have you always taught revenue management?
In my TU Dublin days, my first teaching gig was an accounting course, and that can get repetitive! But, post-masters, I got the opportunity to develop and teach TU Dublin’s inaugural revenue management undergrad course. And since then, revenue management education has been my primary focus, along with the broader domain of operations management.
For me, the joy of teaching revenue management is that you get to help students bring data to life. It is intriguing how each individual student can view the same data from a different lens, and because of that, can learn so much from each other about how to interpret data and leverage it to inform strategy development. Teaching revenue management is never repetitive.
Other than Sherri Kimes, who else has influenced your career?
This is a hard question to answer, because there have been so many individuals that have been pivotal to my career. I have to credit Dr. Michael Mulvey for that 60-minute lecture on yield management that made me completely rethink how I thought about the hospitality industry and led me to pursue a career that would allow me the honor of helping to shape future hospitality leaders.
I have been inspired to strive for excellence in teaching by a group of phenomenal professors in Ireland and the U.S. that I have either had in class or worked alongside over the years: Mr. Kieran Creaner, Ms. Barbara Nolan, Dr. Cathy Enz, Dr. Stephani Robson, Dr. Gary Thompson (and obviously, Sherri Kimes), to name but a few. And Dr. Noel O’Connor, who instilled in me early in my career the importance of treating students with respect and dignity, and the understanding that my role as a professor is to make sure that I create the opportunities to enable them to showcase their skills and abilities.
And the strategic thinkers, not least Dr. Leo Renaghan and Dr. Kelly McGuire, who have impacted how I conceptualize hospitality research and how I challenge my students to hone their analytical and strategic-thinking skills.
What was your experience like teaching virtually during the pandemic?
I was virtual for two semesters. Initially, there was a steep learning curve both for my students and for me! For me specifically, the challenge was figuring out how to best engage everyone online, using a medium where there is no pressure for students to be involved or engaged. There was a lot of tinkering and retooling to encourage people to participate during the time we had together.
But I have to say that, on balance, it was a tremendous opportunity to reevaluate how I teach and assess students. I think that some of the new methods that I developed to deliver course content and assess student learning in the online environment offer superior benefits to some of the methods that I had used in the traditional classroom. So, the upside is that, due to COVID, I have incorporated these innovations into the design of the courses that I am back teaching in-person again.
What keeps you motivated after all these years?
Two things: wonderful students and the constant evolution of the revenue management discipline. Nothing beats an enthusiastic, goal-driven student. I have the privilege of shaping students’ minds, opening their eyes to career opportunities in RM, and, ultimately, helping to lay the foundation for their careers as our future leaders in RM. One of the most gratifying rewards is when a former student writes to tell me of their latest promotion and how I influenced their success.
Also, because revenue management is constantly evolving, my revenue management curriculum and research never remain static. This is why partnership with industry is so important for me. Solid ties with HSMAI and engaged industry colleagues have provided the support that I need to advance my revenue management curriculum and ask the research questions that are relevant to revenue managers. They have also enabled me to identify the right opportunities in revenue management for my students, which in turn feeds the industry with new talent already well versed in real-life hospitality revenue management needs.
What does it mean to receive this award?
It is a tremendous honor, and I am thrilled to receive it. To have the recognition of HSMAI and the revenue management community means an awful lot. I know, and have worked with, many talented and innovative RM educators over my years in academia, so to be selected from this group for this award in its inaugural year is very humbling.
ROC Americas is part of HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas on Sept. 27–30, 2021. Learn more.