School of Hospitality Management Update: September 2013

PSHRS to honor Jim Abrahamson as 2013 Hospitality Executive of the Year

Jim Abrahamson

Jim Abrahamson

Jim Abrahamson, chief executive officer for Interstate Hotels & Resorts, has been named 2013 Hospitality Executive of the Year by the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society (PSHRS). Abrahamson will receive the award during the fifty-second Hospitality Executive of the Year Award Reception, which will take place November 10, 2013 in conjunction with the annual International Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Show in New York. As part of the honor, Abrahamson also will be inducted into the Penn State Hospitality Hall of Fame, located at The Nittany Lion Inn on Penn State's University Park campus.

"Our alumni and industry advisory boards continue to emphasize to us the importance of our developing students' leadership skills and abilities," said John O'Neill, director of the School of Hospitality Management. "We know that for our students to be successful leaders, they should learn from the hospitality industry's greatest leaders. That's why we're so happy that a seasoned leader like Jim has accepted our invitation to spend time with our students discussing his wealth of leadership experiences."

Abrahamson joined Interstate Hotels & Resorts from InterContinental Hotels Group, where he was president of the Americas region, that company's largest operating unit, and was also an executive director of IHG's board of directors. Previously, he held key leadership positions in the areas of operations, development, and franchising with Hyatt Corporation, Marcus Corporation, and Hilton Worldwide.

Abrahamson is active in the hospitality industry and in community affairs. He currently serves as an executive director on the board of directors of Interstate Hotels & Resorts. He also serves as national chair of the U.S. Travel Association. In addition, Abrahamson is the secretary/treasurer of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and will serve as association chair beginning in 2015. He is a member of the AH&LA Governmental Affairs and HotelPAC Committees, and is on the advisory board of the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship. He is chairman of the board of directors at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and is on the advisory board at the Emory University Eye Clinic. Abrahamson holds a degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota.

"Recognition as the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society's Hospitality Executive of the Year is a great honor," said Abrahamson. "The hospitality industry is like no other, where anyone with ambition and initiative, coupled with an outstanding education, can achieve career success. I'm grateful my journey led to Interstate Hotels and Resorts. Through my experience with some of the industry's leading companies, I have been able to successfully guide our global growth strategy and witness it spring to life. Opening the eyes of Penn State students to similar possibilities is what renders this honor a true privilege."

Interstate Hotels & Resorts is the leading U.S.-based global management company operating nearly 360 hotels with more than 69,000 rooms spanning the United States and 10 additional countries.

PSHRS was established in 1948 to strengthen the hospitality profession and to enhance the reputation of the hotel, restaurant and institutional management program in the Penn State School of Hospitality Management. PSHRS and the school created the Hospitality Executive of the Year Award in 1960 to honor individuals who exemplify the successful leadership characteristics that they strive to instill in students and to convey to alumni and colleagues.

Last year’s award recipient was Steve Rushmore, president and founder of HVS. Previous winners include J. W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., executive chairman, Marriott International; Randy Smith, chairman and co-founder, STR; Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer, U.S. Travel Association; Niki Leondakis, former chief operating officer, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants; Andrew Kerin, former group president, Global Food, Hospitality and Facility Services, ARAMARK Corporation; Tom Giannopoulos, executive chairman, MICROS Systems, Inc.; and other notable executives in the industry.

PSHRS Alumni Summer Weekend And Benefield Bash returns to The Nittany Lion Inn

The Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society (PSHRS) Alumni Summer Weekend and Benefield Bash returned to the Nittany Lion Inn on July 12-14 where Jim Purdum ’77 FS HA, general manager of Penn State Hospitality Services, hosted another memorable weekend of alumni activities.

SHM Reception

The first event on Friday night featured a cookout in Café Laura for alumni, faculty members, and students. This year’s theme featured SHM Alumni Trailblazers Richard Benefield ’48 HA, Jim Purdum’ ’77 FS HA, Gary Budge ’72 FS HA, and Larry Wilhelm ’68 FS HA. Menu items were inspired by favorite dishes from these pioneers who blazed trails in our field. Hospitality students (Caroline Pember, Kate Ganley, Gillian Eckert, Matthew Coll, Cody Tietman Aidan Chang, and Wilson Ha) prepared and served the food along with help from Scott King, general manager, Café Laura, and Jean-Pierre Ranjeva, instructor, hospitality management.

PSHRS board members gathered on Saturday for their summer meeting to discuss future alumni events and ways to support hospitality students. The rest of the afternoon was open to enjoy the 47th annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

On Saturday night, the Benefield Bash reception and dinner was held in the ballroom of the Nittany Lion Inn and included a silent auction to raise money for the Richard A. Benefield and Elinor Vinson Benefield Endowment, which commemorates Richard’s love for Penn State and his generosity toward financially deserving SHM students.

Benefield Bash Dinner

Friends and members of the Benefield family were in attendance and shared some heartwarming remarks about Richard Benefield. The menu featured food from Benefield’s favorite restaurants, some no longer in existence, and some still going strong after all these years: Broiled Lake Superior Whitefish from The Berghoff (Chicago, IL), Chef-Carved Dry-Aged Prime Rib, inspired by Gallaghers (NYC), Mussels in White Wine from Conti’s Cross Keys Inn (Doylestown, PA), Double Lamb Chops from Cris Cella’s (NYC), and Braised Pork Shank from Maders Restaurant (Milwaukee, WI). The format was food stations, which allowed plenty of grazing (another Benefield specialty) and each station was paired with appropriate wines and beers making it a very enjoyable evening.

Many alumni complimented the food and service at the Nittany Lion Inn throughout the weekend.

“At all levels, the weekend was a success starting with arrival at the Nittany Lion Inn, all the support, and the final departure,” said Ray Leahey 61 HA. “We share a big thanks to all who were most instrumental in arranging the Benefield Bash this past weekend.”

“This is our main summer event and one of many throughout the year that we host to bring PSHRS alumni together,” said Ryan Spear ’02 HRIM, Program Committee co-chair. “We look forward to planning more events and encouraging more alumni to participate next year.”

Photo Galleries:

PSHRS host network receptions across the country

The Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society (PSHRS) hosted several network receptions for alumni working in the hospitality industry throughout the country. The new network initiative was led by the PSHRS Program Committee that recognized the challenge some alumni have when living farther away and the challenge of traveling back to Penn State for our on-campus activities. Geographic network leaders have taken on the responsibility of being our main points of contact in these markets and of helping to promote events and connect alumni from all generations.

PSHRS San Francisco

Spring receptions were held in Orlando, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. Summer receptions where held in Baltimore, San Francisco, Dallas, New York, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, and focused on connecting alumni with recent graduates and students on summer internships.

PSHRS Dallas Network

“We all had a great time connecting with other alumni in the field,” said Maci Schau ’10 HRIM. “It was great to learn of other people’s experiences relocating to Dallas over the years, and I look forward to similar events in the future.”

We would like to thank the following alumni who hosted events at their own locations and for those alumni that are serving as PSHRS Network Leaders:

Alumni who hosted events in spring-summer 2013:

Jack Lindemuth ’04 HRIM, director of revenue management, The Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill

Biff Naylor ’61 HA, president and chief executive officer, Dupar’s Restaurant

Joe Hindsley ’82 FS HA, general manager, Hyatt Regency Atlanta

Justin George ’10 HRIM, operations manager, W Chicago City Center

Regina Cerra ’10 HRIM, rooms talent coach, W New York Downtown

PSHRS Network Leaders by location:


Leighan Blaede ’03 HRIM, regional director, revenue management services, IHG

Josh Josephson ’99 HRIM, director of capital investment and transactions, IHG


Jessica Byars ’10 HRIM, General Manager, Potbelly Sandwich Works

Amanda Roman ’89 HRIM, sales manager, Hilton Baltimore


Robin August ’10 HRIM, housekeeping manager, Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers

Justin George ’10 HRIM, operations manager, W Chicago City Center


Mike Doyle ’98 HRIM, Area Manager, Expedia Lodging Partner Services

Maci Schau ’12 HRIM, revenue manager, Hilton Worldwide

New York City

Jason Bayona ’05 HRIM, assistant director of human resources, Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel

Ryan Spear ’02 HRIM, group sales manager, The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park


Joe McCann’ 78 FS HA, president, Optimum Hotel Brokerage

Heather Seasholtz ’98 HRIM, associate director, meetings and exhibits, American Association for Cancer Research

San Francisco

Jay Lynn ’89 HRIM, major market director, North America Operations, IHG

Melissa Navarro’ 12 HRIM, associate market manager, Expedia Lodging Partner Services

Washington, D.C.

Marcello Khattar ’04 HRIM, area performance improvement manager, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

If you are living in any of these markets or are moving to a new location, please reach out to our network leaders to help you get connected to our PSHRS alumni network. We will continue to develop more networks this year.

Ahlgren speaks at gaming conference in Las Vegas

Mikael Ahlgren

Mikael Ahlgren

Mikael Ahlgren, instructor, hospitality management, was a featured speaker and panelist at the 15th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking, held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 27-31.

The gaming conference covered an array of topics, including such issues as social impact, problem and compulsive gaming, mathematics/quantitative analyses, success drivers for various venues, the art and science of feasibility studies and forecasting demand issues, I-gaming, cost-benefit, risk-reward, and legal issues.

Ahlgren shared his expertise as a speaker and panelist for sessions on intellectual capital and the gaming industry, the impact of a gaming tax increase on cross-state demand, and gambling motivations and superstitious beliefs among South Korean casino customers.

Ahlgren has been on the School of Hospitality Management faculty for one year and teaches courses in the gaming and casino emphasis, including introduction to the gaming and casino industry, casino marketing, casino controls, and gaming operations management.

Faculty appointments and promotions

Breffni Noon

Breffni Noone

Noone received tenure and promoted to associate professor

Breffni Noone, associate professor, hospitality management, recently received tenure. Her research interests includes pricing and distribution channel management for services, with particular emphasis on consumer perceptions of, and reactions to, revenue management practices. She teaches revenue management and decision models for the hospitality industry and advises honor students in hospitality management.

Egan appointed College Section Chair of the School Nutrition Association

Beth Egan

Beth Egan

Beth Egan, instructor in dietetics and foods, recently was installed as the College Section Chair of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) at the Annual National Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

The SNA is a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country. The mission of SNA is to educate and empower members to provide healthy meals and to foster an environment where children achieve overall wellness and lifelong success.

Previously, Egan fulfilled her role on the Executive Board and chaired the Research Committee, which is one of five national committees charged with working on strategies to fulfill SNA's annual plan of work and long-term strategic initiatives.

Nyheim appointed to AH&LA Technology and E-Business Committee

Peter Nyheim

Peter Nyheim

Peter Nyheim, senior instructor, hospitality management, recently was appointed to the Technology and E-Business Committee of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA). The committee is composed of a well-rounded group of hospitality business and technology leaders representing industry practitioners (i.e., hotel operators and corporate technology staff), consultants, vendors, academics, AH&LA Partner State Association executives, and members of the trade press.

Members of the committee have demonstrated a commitment to the strategic usage of information technology, a desire to help advance technology understanding and adoption within the hospitality industry, a dedication to assisting and guiding the hospitality industry with respect to conducting business efficiently in the electronic age, and a commitment to assisting and representing hospitality operators in connection with the wide range of debit and credit card issues which impact the industry.

Jeff Heim

Jeff Heim

Heim promoted to senior instructor

Jeff Heim, senior instructor, hospitality management, received his promotion this summer and teaches courses in hotel operations, accounting, and finance. He also runs the internship program for undergraduate students.

Opportunities available on the alumni job board

Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society alumni and industry partners can post and view jobs through the PSHRS website. Visit to see the job listings.

Alumni can update contact information

Please update your profile in the Penn State Alumni Directory:

PSHRS events schedule

SHM/PSHRS Alumni in the Classroom

Wednesday - Thursday, October 9-10, 2013

Sponsored by PSHRS/SHM

Mateer Building

University Park, PA

Register at:

PSHRS Alumni Awards Reception

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sponsored by PSHRS

Nittany Lion Inn

University Park, PA

New York International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show

November 9-12, 2013

New York, NY

PSHRS Hospitality Executive of the Year Award Reception

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sponsored by PSHRS

New York, NY

Alumni in the News

Hai Lin ’10 HRIM recently was promoted to assistant food and beverage manager at the Andaz Maui at Wailea in Hawaii. Previously, he was assistant food and beverage manager at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City, New Jersey.

Billy San Roman ’11 HRIM recently was promoted to quality assurance/learning manager for the rooms division at the Four Seasons Philadelphia. This is a new role at the hotel, which focuses on operational data to identify root causes of service problems and find solutions by working with managers and line staff. Previously, he was an assistant manager in the rooms division at the same property.

Danielle Leonardo ’07 HRIM was promoted to sale manager for Remington Hotels in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was director of housekeeping for Remington Hotels in Philadelphia.

Past Updates

Past Updates from the School of Hospitality Management.