Here’s a question: What inspires students to enroll in ICE’s hospitality management program? Several of our students, past and present, answered that question and turns out there are myriad reasons why students choose to study hospitality management at ICE.

Rommel Gopez

Rommel Gopez, Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Edison

For Rommel Gopez (Hospitality ’14), it was an unquenchable thirst for international travel combined with a love of meeting new people that led him to the hospitality industry. In his words, “I love talking to people from all over the world. I’ll talk to someone from one country and then think, ‘Oh, I should travel there next.’ And when I do travel there, I already have a friend.” After spending years working on international cruise ships, he decided to enroll at ICE. Rommel explained, “I wanted the diploma to go with my work experience. And I learned so much [during my time at ICE]. I learned about hotel industry unions, management skills and the culinary side of hospitality. We also had the chance to get in the kitchen and prepare food. I love cooking, so that was a great experience.”

For Madison Malchiodi (Hospitality ’15), a job at Subway during college sparked her passion for service. As she recalled, “Over time, my job taught me something about myself: I took pride in serving as the shift manager, in taking on the responsibility of opening and closing the store.” This first brush with hospitality led her to ICE — a place where she could “boost [her] knowledge of management and service.”

ryan alexey headshot

Ryan Kim

For Ryan Kim (Hospitality ’16), a native of Seoul, South Korea, ICE’s hospitality management program was the perfect fit for a food lover who preferred to work outside of the kitchen. Ryan explained, “As much as I loved cooking and baking, I knew I wasn’t passionate about spending the rest of my life working as a pastry chef. I was looking for a way to be around food, but realized I would rather manage an establishment than be in the kitchen.”

Reeya Banerjee, a current ICE student with nearly ten years’ hospitality experience under her belt, chose ICE in order to catapult her career to the next level. “Between the classroom component and the externship requirement, the Institute of Culinary Education has a hands-on practical approach to education that appeals to me.” Another current student, Julie Milack, was drawn to ICE’s flexible schedule options — with morning, afternoon and evening schedules beginning on a rolling basis. According to Julie, “I chose ICE due to its flexible schedule that fit perfectly into mine.” With an intensive program spanning just 12 months, ICE is the best route for professionals looking to make a career change.

Though many paths lead them to ICE, our students share a passion for hospitality and service. From hands-on training with the latest property management systems to field trips into NYC’s premier hotels and resorts, ICE gives them the tools and experience to turn that passion into a career with endless opportunities around the globe.

Ready to launch (or advance) your career in hospitality? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

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By Caitlin Raux

On a crisp February morning, I met with Rommel Gopez (Hospitality Management ’14) in the lobby of Hotel Edison, where he’s Director of Guest Relations. The first thing I notice about Rommel is his dapper appearance — he’s sporting a navy, three-piece suit and a purple pocket square placed with just a touch of nonchalance. Nestled in the bustling Times Square District, the hotel is buzzing with eager out-of-towners. As he shows me around the art deco lobby, the second thing I notice about Rommel is his way with people: he treats both guests and colleagues with warmth and genuine attention, putting an arm around the doorman when we take a few portraits outside. He’s no doubt a people person — and given his love for international travel, it makes perfect sense that Rommel ended up in the hospitality business. The Hospitality Management alum was generous enough to take time from one of his usual, hectic mornings to chat with me for an ICE blog interview.

Rommel Gopez

You’re originally from Hawaii — did you stay there after high school?

After high school, I joined the military, the US Army, for five years. Then I decided to work on a cruise ship so I could travel for free with work. I did that for a while until I started working in hotels, using my experience from the cruise ships.

It sounds like you have the travel bug.

Yes, I love it. And that’s part of the reason why I love the business itself. I love talking to people from all over the world. I’ll talk to someone from one country and then think, “Oh, I should travel there next.” And when I do travel there, I already have a friend.

What made you decide to come to ICE?

Before I went to ICE, I was already working in the hospitality industry. But I wanted to learn more and have something under my belt to show that I was serious about my profession. I wanted the diploma to go with my work experience. And I learned so much [during my time at ICE]. I learned about hotel industry unions, management skills and the culinary side of hospitality. We also had the chance to get in the kitchen and prepare food. I love cooking, so that was a great experience.

Rommel Gopez

What skills that you learned at ICE do you use in your current role as Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Edison?

I already knew Opera (a premier property management software) when I started at ICE, but ICE gave me the knowledge to teach the system. I’ve often had to train other employees, so this skill has been incredibly useful — not all, but I’d say 90% of hotels use Opera as their PMS. Additionally, the courses on union rules were a great help, professionally, because we have a large number of union employees.

Can you tell me about a-day-in-the-life in your current role?

It’s always busy. I get in at 6:30am in the morning and get out at 5:00 or 6:00pm. The first thing I do when I come in is check on my arrivals and my availability for the day. I check the rate and the occupancy. Then I look at how many VIPs I have and see whether I have enough rooms for my VIPs to be upgraded. I check emails and do my reports. From there, we have meetings and the day continues — I’m in the lobby talking to guests, showing rooms to guests, talking to my team about what’s coming up and any other issues.

What types of things do you report on?

I report on my VIP list, whether I have an executive VIP, honeymooners or birthday VIPs. I flag them all and make sure they have the proper amenities. We make sure that their rooms are ready. We prep everyone, not just my team, but all the other teams at the hotel as well. It’s important that everyone is aware of what’s going on.

Rommel Gopez

What’s the difference between Director of Guest Relations and a concierge service?

The concierge is someone who offers guests recommendations about the city: the theatre, where to shop, restaurants, maps, and so on. My job is quite a bit different: I’m making sure that our VIPs are satisfied so that they’ll come back. By their second stay, most guests already know me and my team. And we already know what they want and which room they want. We want to make sure that when they get to the hotel, everything is ready for them. Many of the guests email me directly to let me know when they’re coming.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

Trying to get a team together that has the same passion and the same mentality as me. The hospitality industry is hard because it’s all about people and service. You have to have the patience, the passion and the willingness to do the job no matter what. We can’t satisfy everyone, but if you have those qualities and a good attitude too, you’ll be successful.

Are there any surprising parts of your job?

Yes, people think we can give everything for free (laughs), which isn’t the case. But we always do our best to accommodate.

How do you see the industry changing?

It’s changing constantly. We have hotels popping up left and right in New York City. A lot of great hotels are popping up in Brooklyn these days. That’s a lot of positions that need to be filled. The hospitality management program must be booming right now.

Do you see yourself working in hospitality in any other cities?

That’s for when I retire (laughs). No, I think New York is the city for me. If you want to work in a hotel, there’s no place like New York City. The experience you get here is like no other.

Learn how you can launch an exciting, international career in hospitality — click here for more info.

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ryan alexey headshot
By Ryan Kim—Student, School of Hospitality Management

Growing up in Seoul, South Korea, I never really cared for extracurricular activities, sports never seemed that exciting and Model United Nations was simply not for me. Around the age of 12 or 13, I baked my first cake and realized how much I enjoyed cooking—and especially baking. For years, I dreamed of attending culinary school and yet I ended up at Smith College, studying completely different interests: architecture and art history. As much as I enjoyed these studies, after three years I made the decision to take a year off to pursue my culinary passion.

As I was concluding my search of which culinary institute to attend, I was torn between the Institute of Culinary Education and one other school. The opportunity to study in New York City played an important role in my decision, but ultimately I selected ICE because of the faculty and staff. During my entire application process, I was overseas and traveling which meant that getting in contact with the admissions staff was especially difficult. Despite all the missed calls and awful time differences, I was able to work through it with ICE admissions representative Ron Toomer, who made the process so simple from beginning to end.

Hospitality wasn’t originally what I planned to study. Initially, I was interested in the School of Pastry and Baking Arts, but as much as I loved cooking and baking, I knew I wasn’t passionate about spending the rest of my life working as a pastry chef. I was looking for a way to be around food, but realized I would rather manage an establishment than be in the kitchen. That’s when I learned about ICE’s Hospitality Management program.

Hospitality Management Opera POS

At first, I worried that Hospitality Management wouldn’t be as exciting as a hands-on culinary program. Yet just weeks into the program, both Plemmie Lawson, instructor for our human resources course, and Tom Voss, the dean of the School of Hospitality Management, have blown me away with their enthusiasm for the material. I know this year will not be filled with boring lectures. Moreover, I know that this program will enable me to work in so many different industries, including restaurants and casinos.

The program wastes no time introducing students to guest speakers. The first person to visit our class was Matthew Dempsey, the general manager at The Bowery House, a boutique hostel in a trendy location. Complemented by the robust and interesting history of the Bowery, the hostel is ideal for visitors who’d like an affordable place to stay in one of the most popular neighborhoods in New York City. One phrase Dempsey mentioned that stuck was the term “ECHO,” which stands for “Every Contact Has Opportunity.” His advice was to be ready—keep up with current events, be ready to have any sort of conversation, be hospitable, listen to the guests and anticipate their needs.

lecture - culinary management - kate edwards - steve zagor - classroom

On the other end of the spectrum, we met with the concierge and the senior catering director from the luxurious Palace Hotel. Their presentation gave our class a better understanding of the managerial aspects of hospitality: how to motivate your employees with the right incentives, maintain and create genuine professional relationships and develop a sense of teamwork within the workplace.

Just two months into the program, I know this is just a small taste of the interesting lectures that are to come. One theme that has remained with every speaker who has visited our class is that to work in this industry you must have a passion for what you do and you have to be willing to go above and beyond what is asked. It’s a steep road to becoming successful in hospitality—but if you enjoy your work, it’s a thoroughly rewarding journey to the top.

Click here to receive free information about ICE’s Hospitality Management program.

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By Carly DeFilippo

Over the course of more than 35 years in the hospitality industry, there’s little that ICE Dean of Hospitality Management Tom Voss hasn’t seen. His career spans the heights of both hotel operations and food and beverage management, serving as general manager of no less than three different luxury properties and numerous hotel restaurants.

Tom Voss Hotel Expert Hospitality Management

Growing up in Tehran, Iran, Tom’s first interaction with the hotel industry came through an ad in the paper. Despite not knowing what the term “bus boy” meant, 20-year-old Tom landed a position at the stunning mountainside Tehran Hilton. There, his work ethic quickly caught the eye of the head of the hotel’s accounting department. The rest, as they say, is history.

One year later, Tom immigrated to the United States to study computer science and management at the University of Central Oklahoma. To pay for his education, Tom worked as a server at the local Hilton hotel, and it quickly became clear that he was far more interested in hotels than his educational path. However, like many students with prior education or work experience, Tom’s education turned out to be an asset in his career: “Knowing how to operate back-end databases and general principles of management—both of which I teach in the hospitality program at ICE—gave me a significant advantage over my peers in the field.”

After a few years working in management at both Oklahoma hotels and hotel restaurants, Tom relocated to Dallas, where he once again had the chance to work for the Hilton hotel group. “Over the course of my career, I worked for Hilton a total of six times. It’s a very interconnected industry, so you’ll find that the relationships you build at one property often help you find new positions as your career progresses.”

Dallas Hilton on Mockingbird Hotel

Dallas Hilton on Mockingbird. Photo Credit: Hilton

While in Texas, one of the highlights of Tom’s experience was overseeing operations at the Dallas Hilton Inn on Mockingbird’s supper club—the Dallas equivalent of New York City’s Rainbow Room. “It was the best location, the best menu and the best band in town,” says Tom. “That experience introduced me to high net worth clients who later asked me to consult on the openings of their hotel restaurants.”

Eventually, Tom became hungry for an experience at the epicenter of the luxury hotel industry: New York City. But transitioning to a more competitive market proved an eye-opening experience. “Moving to New York, I realized that my management experience in Texas wouldn’t be seen as equivalent—I had to take a step back and work my way back up the ladder to top-level hotels. That’s why it’s so great that ICE students start their careers in the New York City market.”

In New York, Tom ultimately found a role as the food and beverage director at the Vista Hilton International, a grand property that connected the two World Trade Centers. During that time, the Hilton group oversaw all restaurants within the World Trade complex, meaning that Tom reported to the director of some of the world’s most luxurious dining rooms—including the famed Windows on the World.

OPERA technology hotels hospitality

Over the next few years, Tom began to reconsider his future in the industry: “I realized that I had already reached the pinnacle of my career path—three times over—as a general manager. I was ready to do something different.” Ready to share his knowledge, Tom took on a variety of hospitality and tourism teaching positions, eventually becoming the chair of the Travel & Tourism department at the Katharine Gibbs School. Over the next fifteen years, Tom reimagined the school’s curriculum, focusing on hotel and restaurant management. So when ICE was looking for a qualified expert to develop our hospitality management curriculum in 2008, it was no surprise that Tom got the call.

In less than 10 years, the ICE Hospitality Management program has seen incredible success under Tom’s guidance, including several alumni who are now general managers of hotels. “We’ve placed people at the likes of the New York Palace and the Waldorf Astoria straight out of school,” says Tom. “Our students find success because they have been trained not only on the core principles of hotel management, but also in such key technologies as the OPERA software.”

Tom’s passion for hospitality hasn’t faded with time. He notes, “Hotels are a multifaceted business. They cater to a population that spans many cultures and languages, whereas restaurants more often deal with the native public of a city. What’s more, from conferences and galas to trendy lobbies overflowing with laptop-wielding freelancers, hotels have become so much more than a place to sleep. There has never been a more interesting time to be in this industry.”

Click here to learn how you can launch your hospitality career at ICE.

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At ICE, we’re committed to helping students make their dreams of a culinary career a reality. Our Office of Financial Aid can help students explore such options as grants, scholarships, out-of-state and double diploma tuition discounts, visa application processes, affordable housing options and more. So before you say, “I can’t afford culinary school,” learn about the many resources at your disposal in the video below:

One of the most important steps in any financial aid process is to accurately fill out your free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). Learn about this and other essential tips in the video below:

Click here to learn more about financial aid options at ICE.

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