The Charger Blog

Hospitality Students’ Unique Capstone Highlights How Tourism Industry Can Raise Awareness to State’s Black History

As part of an innovative capstone project, hospitality and tourism management students worked together to learn about and promote Black history and innovation while exploring new ways to attract tourists to Connecticut when it is safe to travel.

April 20, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students, arms around each other, pose for a photo.
Ashley Cleary-Burke ’21 (far right) and her classmates on the first day of class.

Ashley Cleary-Burke ’21 recently served as team leader on a project that included developing points of interest for a virtual race that highlighted Black history and innovation in Connecticut. Focusing on the West Haven and New Haven region, she and her teammates created a storyboard and then presented their ideas to their classmates, professor, and industry professionals.

A hospitality and tourism management (HTM) major, Cleary-Burke’s work was part of her HTM capstone class. The semester-long virtual tourism project enabled students to present their story map with significant historical locations that included museums, monuments, and businesses. They also pitched their ideas for how such a race could be implemented in Connecticut to generate revenue for the tourism industry, an industry hit particularly hard by the coronavirus global pandemic.

“I learned about working with different people and managing different skillsets,” said Cleary-Burke, who has served as a teaching assistant for two HTM classes and served as a manager of the University’s Hazell Nut Café in Maxcy Hall. “The most interesting part of this project was discovering my teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and using that knowledge to our advantage. One person’s strong skillset can benefit another member on the team.”

‘A very proud teacher moment’

In addition to her classmates and professor, Jan Jones, Ph.D., Cleary-Burke and her team pitched their ideas to the Connecticut Office of Tourism. Each of the three teams focused on a different region of the state: Hartford, Farmington, or West Haven/New Haven. Students then merged the points of interest they identified and researched into one seamless race, which they named “Charge into Connecticut Black History.” The University was the final point of interest, signifying the end of the race, and students highlighted the University’s commitment to celebrating diversity and Black innovation.

A zoom presentation lead by Prof. Jan Jones.
The capstone project enabled students to learn about and promote Black history and innovation.

Using ArcGIS, a geographic information system, students developed an online version of their storyboards, creating a story map outlining why tourists should visit each location.

“I believe it is important to promote history and culture in tourism because it educates people on a multitude of diverse backgrounds,” said Grace Simpson ’22, an HTM major. “It also is a great way to share stories that are significant to a particular area and culture. It was amazing how everyone came together and did their part on this project. The industry professionals, Dr. Jones, and our graduate assistant couldn’t have been more proud of the class.”

As part of the presentations, held via Zoom, students also pitched their ideas to Adams & Knight, an integrated marketing agency that oversees all tourism marketing for the state.

“The feedback we received from industry professionals about this project was overwhelmingly positive,” said Dr. Jones, coordinator for hospitality and tourism management at the University. “I was thrilled to see so many people attend our virtual event. Several practitioners commented on the timeliness and the need for this type of project across the nation.

“Overall, I was extremely impressed with the quality of the final presentation and the website that students developed in such a short period of time,” she continued. “I look forward to continuing to do more industry-based projects with our hospitality students. This was a very proud teacher moment for me.”

An array of zoom screens depicting students giving a presentation.
Students pitched their ideas to the Connecticut Office of Tourism.
‘This project was very detailed oriented’

Developed as a way to address the need for more engaging trails related to specific historical and cultural aspects of destinations across the state, the project enabled students to work with the Connecticut Sports and Convention Bureau and the Connecticut Old State House. They focused on virtually capturing the attention of international tourists and encouraging them to visit Connecticut when it is safe to do so.

“This project was very detailed oriented,” said Simpson. “It entailed a lot of collaboration, communication, and hard work. There was a lot of research, editing, and re-editing involved through the whole process, and consistency and planning were crucial.”

Grace Simpson ’22.
Grace Simpson ’22.

Cleary-Burke, the team leader, says the project helped her build important skills that she will use in her career and complemented the coursework in her other classes – particularly her sport management event execution capstone. A sport management minor, she and her classmates in her capstone group, “Charger Blue,” worked with the Special Olympics of Connecticut to host the “Charger Olympics” at the University’s Kathy Zolad Stadium during one of the University’s Re-Charge Days.

“I was team leader for both capstone projects while taking a total of six classes, and I was always dedicated to providing assistance to my teammates,” she said. “I plan to work my way up through many operations management positions, eventually becoming a general manager of a sports/entertainment facility, and these experiences are preparing me for that."