On the first day of class, students in HADM 4180: Technology for Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship write down every technology system they use at least weekly. Blackboard. Microsoft Office. Email. Google Docs. CULibrary. Text messages. YouTube. Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. Snapchat. The list gets long quickly.
The point? “I challenge them to think about what being a ‘techie’ means. Today all students are ‘techies.’ It isn’t about whether they can create code. They leverage technology every day to be successful in their educational journey at Cornell,” said course instructor Mona Anita K. Olsen ’04, visiting assistant professor and assistant academic director of the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship.
Technology is everywhere—from major hotel corporations to start-up ventures—and the systems are constantly changing. Technology is also driving innovation through new platforms, like AirBnB, that are shaking up the industry. Since most students in HADM 4180 plan to launch their own companies, they need to have a clear understanding of this ever-evolving world.
“Our students can’t close their eyes to the influence of tech systems on their lives,” said Mona Anita. “If they don’t already have a stance, they need to develop one. What’s their position on security? What about data privacy? Where do they draw ethical boundaries when handling client data or when they give their own data up in exchange for a cloud-based service?”
One of the newest courses on the SHA curriculum, HADM 4180 helps students understand how these questions affect them and their businesses, and the course is tailored to each individual’s interests and needs.
“The class really caters to the goals of each student. The small class size, along with how the class is run, builds a very close-knit and supportive energy among all the members of the class,” said Christopher Jacks ’14.
The students also benefit from the many different perspectives in the class, which attracts both Hotelies and non-Hotelies. Mona Anita teams up students from different majors, and the pairs offer each other support and critical inquiry as they refine their technology evaluations and business plans.
“Hotelies, by nature and training, are business-minded. They think about how the company will be fiscally responsible and appeal to a market,” said Mona Anita. “Students from areas like computing and information science are better at raising questions about technology. They ask, ‘Will the system work? Will it do what you want it to do?’ The blending of these two viewpoints is critical.”
Don Carpenter CIS MS ’14 explained “Before taking Mona’s class, I imagined 90 percent of my time would be simply programming and 10 percent would be fielding customer service tickets. I now realize the folly of my ways. I had been missing the entire business side of things.”
For the final exam, the students pitch their technology plans. Like in the “real world,” there is no one right answer. Students, instead, have to show that they’ve come to their decision strategically.
“I’m not as concerned with the choices the students make regarding their paths forward with technology, assuming they are defended within a given budget,” said Mona Anita. “I want them to prove that they’ve thought through the options and fully understand the decisions they are making with regards to technology.”
Through this process, students learn to make tradeoffs. They analyze programs that will get their businesses to market quickly and those that offer comprehensive security measures. They assess what’s being done with customer data and decide if it’s ethical. They look at tech systems that are free and ones that are quite expensive, and they are evaluated on the resourcefulness of their approach.
“At the School of Hotel Administration, we teach future leaders how to make marketing and branding decisions and financial decisions. Why not teach them how to make a difference with technology, too?” said Mona Anita. “They need to know how to speak the language, so they can be informed and navigate technology decisions moving forward. Graduates need to know how to keep up with technological advances that impact the industry.”