Ellen Kim, associate professor of management, is the new director of the Center for Entertainment and Hospitality Management (E&HM), which seeks to connect students and grads with opportunities in this growing and dynamic field in Southern California. Kim discusses her background and vision and how today’s young people can position themselves for a lucrative and rewarding career in the industry.
For many college students, a part-time job at a restaurant or hotel might offer work experience or financial support. But Ellen Kim, the incoming director of Mihaylo College’s Center for Entertainment and Hospitality Management (E&HM), notes that many versatile and rewarding career paths exist in this field, particularly in Southern California.
From managerial roles at high-end hotels to performer positions at theme parks to project management for entertainment giants, opportunities in the E&HM field are varied, yet united in the ability to create memorable positive experiences to diverse populations.
“In this field, we work to make people happy. If you ask anyone about a great experience they remember, it is often entertainment or hospitality/tourism based, such as interacting with cast members at a theme park or a great service experience at a hotel when traveling,” she says. “Many of our students enjoy working at Disneyland or hotels where they can interact with many different people, and they are excited about a related career path that is dynamic and rewarding.”
As the only hospitality program at a university based in Orange County, Kim hopes that, under her directorship, the Mihaylo College center will play an increasing role in the Southern California hospitality and tourism sector and serve as a conduit for developing new talent in the field.
She says the program’s connection to a broader business background provides a unique value-add compared with its counterparts at other institutions nationwide.
“Our students major in business, taking courses in accounting, finance, marketing and operations that are very challenging, which makes them well-rounded,” she says. “They come to our concentration classes having taken all of these major business courses. What makes our students stand out is that they have a strong business foundation, which Mihaylo College provides.”
A Global Upbringing Sparks a Lifelong Passion
For Kim, a lifelong interest in creating quality service experiences for tourists grew out of a childhood and youth spent in five countries.
Born in the famed Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul, Korea – think of the the 2012 Psy K-pop single – Kim moved with her parents to Tokyo as a small child, where she developed a love for Japanese cuisine. As a teenager, she would have short stints in New Jersey and California’s San Gabriel Valley before spending her high school years in Paris.
“I grew up living in many countries, and I was naturally exposed to the tourism and hospitality industry,” she says. “I worked in hotels and enjoyed helping the guests and serving them. I found it very rewarding.”
After returning to South Korea to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Kyung-Hee University, Kim received her M.S. in hospitality management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her Ph.D. in hospitality management from Penn State University.
In the past decade, Kim’s research interests have included such diverse topics as consumer behavior in service settings, electronic word of mouth (eWOM), corporate social responsibility and cross-cultural issues.
Kim’s forthcoming research, which is closely aligned with her personal past, concerns interviews with tourists for whom English is a second language to best understand the challenges they face in service settings, such as struggles to understand tipping practices or deciphering menus at restaurants.
“We are getting many international visitors, not just in Orange County, but also around the world. I’m looking at how these cultural differences and language barriers impact tourist experiences,” she says. “When my family and I would move from country to country, we didn’t speak the language and struggled ordering food at restaurants and navigating the transportation system. Traveling should be fun, but if we don’t consider that international tourists don’t speak the language and have cultural differences, it can be a negative experience.”
Kim hopes this focus will resonate not only with practitioners in the field, but also broader communities for which tourism is central. “If the U.S. is going to be one of the top destinations, we need to think about what we can do to be more competitive as a marketing destination,” she says.
Launching Your Entertainment or Hospitality Career
Though Southern California is a particularly strong market for the entertainment and hospitality fields, Kim says the global outlook is better than ever thanks to increases in travel and disposable income.
“More people are wanting to spend more of their income and time on entertainment and travel, so there is a bright future because more and more people want to spend their leisure time being entertained,” she says.
In Orange County particularly, Kim suggests the hotel industry as a potential career path. While the region’s accommodations are busy year-round, oceanfront lodging often offers summer jobs, which can be attractive to students. The likely expansion of casinos in the Southland and the ever-expanding footprint of Disneyland also offer employment prospects.
Kim says the Las Vegas metro provides additional connections for students and graduates, with many industry leaders from the area participating in Southern California associations.
On the restaurant side, Kim says that managerial or corporate roles often offer surprisingly competitive salaries and advancement. The rise of working families, health consciousness and diversity are spurring the field’s growth.
“Whenever we get a guest speaker from the restaurant field, students are surprised about the good pay levels and benefits,” she says.
Cruise lines, airlines and ecotourism are other promising sectors globally, offering opportunities for travel and personal development as well as a career path.
Through Behind the Scenes, a student club related to the E&HM program offering career development support, including industry visits and social activities, students can get a jumpstart on post-graduation opportunities.
By building relationships with industry leaders and professionals, Kim hopes to offer more guest speakers and internship and job connections.
“In the next 10 years, I hope that many of the practitioners in Orange County and Southern California will be from Cal State Fullerton, resulting in a strong network,” she says.
The Mihaylo College E&HM program is also seeking business students from other concentrations, who may be interested in developing an entertainment and hospitality component to their education. Business majors of all concentrations are welcome to take the concentration’s courses as electives or as a second emphasis.
For More Information
For more on Mihaylo College’s E&HM academic program, please see the program description in the current catalog.