According to the U.S. Department of Labor, meeting and convention planning is one of the best careers to be in for the next decade. But finding colleges that offer degrees in meeting, convention or event management is difficult. One of the few colleges that did have a degree program, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, almost eliminated their meetings and events program this year. Thanks to UNLV professor Patti Shock, who helped develop the major, and protest from within and without the university, it won’t disappear completely. But it will be downgraded from a bachelor of science major with 20 course offerings to a formal concentration with only five basic courses and four rotating electives.
Why did they agree to downgrade the major instead of getting rid of it completely?
Partially because of the push-back and partially because I was kicking and screaming about them not going to save anything.
My argument was that it was the fastest-growing major at the university, Las Vegas is the No. 1 convention destination in the world, and the school supports the local industry … those were all the points I was making.
If the economy comes back, it will be easier to petition for it to come back as a major. We compromised in the middle with the formal concentration.
Why were they thinking about eliminating the program in the first place?
The politics of [university] administrators is a mystery. But if they’re cutting a program over here, [other programs] have the bite the bullet, too. The business college is losing their marketing department and moving the marketing faculty that are tenured into management. Every college on campus is having to make cuts. The other discipline going down with us was gaming. How can you not have a gaming major in Las Vegas? They gave them the formal concentration, too.
I’m glad this didn’t happen after I retired. I spent 23 years building this program. If I had been retired, it would have gone by the wayside.
Tell me a little about your hospitality background. What did you do before coming to UNLV?
When I went to hotel school, I was taught how to be a general manager of a Holiday Inn by the side of the road. I moved to Atlanta, and within a year I became the head of the hotel school at Georgia State University. I was on the board of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and Georgia Travel and Tourism Industry, and I really learned about the convention market. I looked around and saw it was a multi-billion dollar industry. I did a search, but only found one school teaching about meetings.
I was at GSU for 10 years, from 1977 to 1988. I was the first person to put convention courses in higher education, but I was only allowed four courses. … First, I added courses about convention service management from the hotel side (taught by Sam Galloway from the Atlanta Hilton), then added meeting planning taught by Haywood Cox. I sat down and took that course, and IAEE brought me to Chicago and started teaching me about trade shows. Then I [added] in a course about event management.
About that time, UNLV decided they wanted to recruit me, so I moved here in January of 1988. Since then, I’ve been building [its] program.
Why do you think there are so few schools offering degree programs for meetings and convention management?
It’s a new discipline, so within academia it’s suspect [and] doesn’t receive the same respect because it’s part of a specific industry. But it’s not just meetings and events, it’s hospitality in general. If you look at how hospitality schools are housed, some are in tourism departments, some in home economics, some are in business schools and some are free-standing. At GSU, it’s part of urban affairs. Even hospitality schools don’t know where they belong.
The U.S. government’s classification of [meeting and events] jobs is all over the place. Food service is over here and there’s something over there. You can’t judge the size of an industry if it’s fragmented. That’s been another problem with our industry. As far as different associations and niches go, MPI, PCMA and IAEE have their own initiatives, but the Convention Industry Council should be speaking for the whole industry.
What kind of text books do you use to teach meetings and events?
Initially, there were no books. We taught with trade journal articles and I’d sit in, taking notes on guest lectures. Then associations came out with books. So now we use the PCMA book and the IAEE book. Prior to that, every school was teaching something different. Textbooks standardized what we were teaching.
I’ve lived long enough to know that things will go in cycles. In think we’re in a down cycle. But education will come back. Education in this state is funded by gaming revenues. Once the economy comes back, [UNLV] will move meeting and convention management back into a major and increase its status. This is just a temporary setback.
Have you written any books? Or are there books you would recommend planners read?
I wrote a book called “A Meeting Planner’s Guide to Catered Events.” You can get it on amazon.com for $30. I spoke to a lot of planners about food and beverage. It was a black hole, the most expensive item in the budget and they didn’t know how to control it.
There are some really good blogs out there: Serious Eats, Slash Food (now Huffington Post Food), Velvet Chainsaw and Joyce McKee. Once a book gets published, it gets dated, but the blogs always come out with new stuff. Particularly, social media is chugging the industry. And I do teach half my classes online, so people from all over the world take [them]. I learn from my students as much as they learn from me.
To learn more about Patti Shock, visit pattishock.com.