Entertainment management student Maddy Frye sat in front of her laptop to access her entertainment production management course remotely for the first time since the coronavirus affected UCF’s classes.

She saw her instructors, David John and Lauren Sigmund ’19MS, just like she had every Wednesday afternoon throughout the semester — only this time they were in front of her virtually. While she listened to their words of encouragement and support, something they said stopped her.

John announced he, Sigmund and fellow Rosen College of Hospitality Management adjunct Jose Nieves, had committed their salaries to UCF student emergency support funds.

“It means the world to know that they support my classmates and myself in this way,” Frye says. “They’ve been so supportive throughout this, and were immediately checking in with us to see if we were doing OK. They have helped me see the good in the dark times we’re facing.”

“They have helped me see the good in the dark times we’re facing.” — Maddy Frye, UCF student

John, who serves as adjunct faculty and also has another job as the chief operating officer of Entertainment Technology Partners, where Sigmund also works, says it just seemed like the right thing to do.

“We were seeing some of the stories that were getting a lot of headlines, which were people hoarding supplies,” John says. “We thought it was a good alternative to that, and a better example for what embodies Rosen and UCF.”

Adds Nieves: “It is up to us to lead the way. If we don’t help the students, who will? Donating the money was just a small example of, ‘What else can we do?’ I have to say that we are joined by a great group of professors who have come up many different ways to reach the students, and the innovating things they are trying to do to keep our connection going.”

‘Look for the Helpers’

John had never taught a class before this year, but the experience has made a lasting impression.

He signed on at Rosen after a chance meeting on an airplane with Fevzi Okumus, the CFHLA preeminent chair professor at Rosen. The two bonded immediately, and Okumus encouraged John to share his industry expertise with the next generation of hospitality professionals.

John asked Sigmund to teach the class with him. The two met while she was a hospitality and tourism management student in one of Okumus’ classes and hired after she graduated with her master’s degree last year.

“My father was a teacher for his whole career, so education has been an essential part of my life,” John says. “The classroom experience has been just incredible. The students are so engaging and they’re really what keeps me going. I’ve told them each week I feel like I learn as much from them that I hope they’re learning from us.”

When UCF announced that classes would be transitioned to online instruction for the rest of the semester, John and Sigmund brainstormed on how they could still connect with the students and provide an engaging learning experience.

They filmed a series of videos using resources from one of their company’s brands, LMG, and enlisted Nieves’ help. They wanted to set the tone – an optimistic tone – for the class, so they asked one of their students, Josh Gluck, to perform two uplifting songs, including an original piece that he recently released.

John says he debated announcing their decision to donate their salaries, but ultimately decided to include it.

“There’s a quote I sent out to our class the week before about Fred Rogers. His mother used to tell him in scary times to look for the helpers,” John says. “What we were hoping was that in that time of uncertainty, here is a show of help.”

“What we were hoping [to convey with the donation] was that in that time of uncertainty, here is a show of help.” — Dave John, UCF adjunct

Sigmund says she feels like she has a sense of duty to the students to guide them through the stressors of this confusing and unsettling time.

“I think it’s very easy to slip into a slump, especially from a student’s perspective. A lot of their important moments have been taken away from them,” Sigmund says. “We just really wanted to give them inspiration and a platform so they can jump off and achieve their dreams.”

And even though the hospitality industry is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, John has stressed to his students, especially those preparing to graduate, that there is still much to look forward to.

“I told my students, I want you to look at it like this: The old paradigm of how business was done in this industry is changing. Would you rather enter into this market where the roles were already established? Or would you rather enter this market at a time when all the roles are changing and you can help influence those changes?

“There are real issues. I’m not going to gloss over the reality of our situation. But I do have a positive view that it’s all going to work out, and there’s a good place for UCF Rosen students in this new world.”