Campus Life

UWF Emerald Coast hospitality students partner with local hotels, entrepreneurs for real-world learning experiences

Students in the Hospitality, Recreation and Resort Management program at the University of West Florida Emerald Coast recently went beyond the classroom to gain real-world experience developing business plans for local entrepreneurs and front desk procedure manuals for area hotels.

Instructor Marcia Dove developed the projects for two of her upper-level courses, Financial Decision-Making and Managing Front Office Operations, in an effort to reinforce textbook theory in a real-world environment.

“One of the objectives for these projects was to expose the students to a whole new way of thinking about their career paths,” Dove said. “Students were also afforded the opportunity to network with key business leaders. Having the ability to create a business plan may send some students down the entrepreneurial path to create their own companies at some point in their future.”

Students in the Financial Decision-Making course were required to find community members with a desire to start new business ventures and work with them to develop detailed business plans. Deborah Elliot, a senior hospitality major, was part of a four-person team that developed a business plan for “Marley’s All-Natural Canine Cuisine,” run by Joe and Amy Derr. Elliot was responsible for developing a Customer Analysis, identifying target customers and their needs, as well as a Competitive Analysis that identified direct and indirect competitors. She and her team were also tasked with creating financial projections for the business.

“This particular high impact practice experience allowed me to take concepts that I had learned in several of my core hospitality classes and actually apply them to a real-life situation,” Elliot said. “Marley’s needed a real business plan, and I was able to realistically create market strategies and a financial plan that included projected income statements, a balance sheet and cash flow statements. It also served as a motivator to pursue a personal dream of opening my own bed and breakfast business one day. I know that I am now capable of taking it from a dream state to an actual written plan.”

As part of the Managing Front Office Operations course, students were tasked with writing Front Desk Procedures manuals for Fort Walton Beach hotels. Debbie Flynn was part of a three-person team who worked with Rachael Joyce, general manager of the Hampton Inn, to develop a procedures manual that would be effective for her hotel.

“My Emerge High Impact Practice has broadened my job search into areas I hadn’t thought of before and introduced me to some very helpful people who are just as excited as I am about the hospitality industry,” Flynn said. “I have enjoyed the whole ‘Emerge college experience.’ I believe it will be the reason for my future success, as well as my ability to apply the education and experiential learning activities to be an excellent hospitality professional who will excel in any capacity.”

The projects were part of the College of Professional Studies Emerge Program, which helps faculty design and utilize high impact practices to deepen student learning and engagement. By using a combination of techniques, such as collaborative assignments and projects, service and community-based learning and learning communities, high impact practices raise levels of performance, retention and success for all students.

Both Elliot and Flynn are among the first class of students to graduate as “Emerge Scholars.” To earn this distinction, students in the College of Professional Studies were required to participate in two high impact practice experiences and complete reflection pieces, which they presented at conferences, the UWF Student Scholar Symposium or Emerge Faculty Forums. The students also had to complete professional skills experience requirements, including writing a series of papers; completing a career development took kit that contained a resume, cover letter, references and letters of recommendation; and presenting at a mock interview event.

Elliot and Flynn presented their projects during the Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee meeting on Tuesday, April 15.

“In retrospect, choosing to participate in the Emerge Program has been one of the best decisions I have made regarding my education,” Elliot said. “As a recent Air Force retiree, I have had anxieties about starting a second career. However, after engaging in a high impact learning environment, I can now see that I have been equipped to succeed.”

For additional information about the UWF Hospitality, Recreation and Resort Management program, visit

To learn more about the College of Professional Studies Emerge Program, visit