Since its inception nearly three decades ago, the University of Central Florida’s Hospitality Management program has seen unprecedented growth, expanding from small subset of the University’s College of Business to its own College with nearly 3,500 students. And come May 4th, UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management will see one of its founding students walk across the graduation stage for the final time, as 48-year-old Scott Smith will receive his Ph.D. in Hospitality Education. Smith’s Ph.D. will mark the first time in Rosen College’s 29-year history that a hospitality management student has earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree all from UCF.
Born and raised in Orlando, Smith had the unique experience of watching his modest hometown developed into the world’s premiere tourist destination. And just as quick as hotels and attractions began spreading throughout area, so did Smith’s fascination with the hospitality and tourism industry.
“When I was 16, I applied for a job at Disney and haven’t stopped working in the hospitality industry since,” said Smith. “I’ve just always had a fascination with the industry.”
In 1982, Smith enrolled at UCF as a freshman, and two years later the UCF’s College of Business began a degree program specializing in hospitality management – an opportunity that Smith was excited to take advantage of that semester.
“I remember seeing these posters around campus advertising this new hospitality management program,” said Smith. “As soon as I saw the posters, I knew I had to be part of the program, and so I ended up enrolling into the first two hospitality classes ever offered by UCF.”
By the summer 1987, Smith graduated from UCF as one of the first ten students to declare the hospitality major and immediately began working in Orlando’s competitive hotel industry. Roughly 15 years later, Smith was at the peak of his career, serving as the general manager of one Orlando’s busiest hotels, when he decided to pursue a master’s degree.
“I was at the peak of my career and I kept thinking about the next step to take in my life, and I decided to go back to school and get a master’s,” said Smith. “Coincidentally, that year UCF was starting a master’s program in Hospitality and Tourism Management, so I agreed to step down as GM of my hotel, accept a sales & marketing manager position, and began pursuing my master’s at UCF.”
While pursuing his master’s degree, Smith was approached by the then Associate Dean, Dr. Stephen LeBruto, to teach classes at the Rosen College as an adjunct professor.
“Being asked to teach hospitality management classes was a great opportunity for me because I got to see if this was the right direction for my career,” said Smith. “Teaching just felt right, it felt natural.”
Smith’s decision to begin teaching in the classroom seems to have been the right career move as he was voted the eighth best university professor in 2009 by Ratemyprofessor.com, which ranks more than a million college professors.
Smith eventually joined the Rosen College faculty full time, as a Ph.D. candidate.
This past semester, Smith completed his doctoral dissertation, which focused on consumer perceptions of hotel pricing and cancelation policies.
“I’m a hotel guy, who has run the sales and marketing department, and I was very interested in researching consumer behavior with regard to hotel pricing,” said Smith. “I wanted to examine why people pick the hotels they do and why they cancel their reservations. Dr. H.G. Parsa was able to help me direct my research and guide me through the entire process.”
Smith also credits his success to two of his current colleagues Dr. Abraham Pizam and Professor Bob Ashley, who have both served on UCF’s Hospitality Management faculty since the program’s inception.
After the May 4 commencement ceremony, Dr. Scott Smith will look to continue educating students about the competitive hotel industry.