Faculty Spotlight: Michelle Fitzpatrick Does Not Live in a Silo

The Teaching & Learning Excellence Division (TLED) highlights faculty successes in and out of the classroom as often as possible to celebrate #ACCexcellence. This month Courtney Grams interviewed Michelle Fitzpatrick. See a summary of their conversation below.

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Her biggest fear when leaving the hospitality industry with over 10 years under her belt for a teaching position at ACC was that she’d lose touch with a business that she loved. Michelle Fitzpatrick bravely took that fear and turned it into motivation. She now Chairs the ACC Hospitality, Meeting & Event Planning, and Tourism Department and her area couldn’t be more embedded in Central Texas’ hospitality business.

Listening to Michelle talk about the programs in her area and the classes she teaches you’d think her students never even see the inside of a traditional classroom (in the best way possible!). Her team consists of one other full-time faculty member and 11 adjunct professors who work tirelessly to provide opportunities for their students that are unique. They focus intensely on creating lessons and assignments that translate directly to what their students would experience in the real world.

Virtual Field Trips

Not every student can take time out of their school/work/life schedule to visit Fredericksburg to better their understanding of the Tourism industry. But that’s okay because ACC has made that experience accessible for free online. Michelle’s department worked closely with TLED’s Instructional Video team and Instructional Designers to create “virtual field trip” videos that provide students with real-world knowledge that is not readily accessible in other formats. The Austin Convention Center worked with ACC to create a video that showcases large-scale sustainability practices. Wurstfest collaborated with ACC to show students how to plan a festival from start to finish. See these videos and more in TLED’s Learning Depot.

Converge on the Capitol

This truly inspiring event occurs every two years when the Texas legislature is in session. Industry leaders, partners, and ACC students meet in the Austin Convention Center to receive an in-depth training on the current policy issues facing the Hospitality Industry. They break into key topical groups and become experts on the legal issue they’ll focus on for the day. A speaker is chosen for each group and they venture out to the Capitol, where appointments are scheduled for them to speak to representatives and educate them on how one policy or another will impact the Hospitality & Tourism Industry in Texas. Michelle says that “It’s powerful for students to witness. They see the industry come together and how each person can personally make an impact. They get a closer look at the big picture and begin to understand how these legislative decisions affect industry practices at all levels.” ACC had the largest company turnout at this event in 2017 compared to hospitality businesses from all across Texas who attended to advocate for the industry. 52 ACC students and faculty members attended.

Guest Speakers

As often as possible guest speakers are invited to the classroom to give students time with industry experts. Michelle is most excited about an event she just hosted in collaboration with the Austin Hotel & Lodging Association. She was able to get her class sponsored access to hear a lawyer discuss the impact of the #metoo movement in the hospitality industry.

Students are also strongly encouraged to volunteer at local events such as SXSW, Formula One, and the ACL Music Festival.

Michelle remarks that she “might be more involved with the Hospitality Industry now than I was when I worked in it.” She and her department faculty serve on several local Board of Directors including the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association, and getting their students into industry employment is the core of their mission while staying educated on current trends and strategies that can be shared in the classroom. One of Michelle’s most rewarding moments as of late was when she attended an industry gala in January 2018. They opened the show with one of the ACC instructional videos mentioned, and while that could have been the highlight of the night, seeing her students attending and working the gala stole the show. “I was so proud to see my students growing, developing, and being recognized in the industry for their successes,” says Michelle.

This department has big plans going forward. They’re preparing for their programs to move to Highland in 2020 and discussing adding a Beverage Management program to their curriculum. Michelle says that the best part about working at ACC is “getting the freedom to think creatively on ways that I can really grow our programs while inspiring our students.”

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