Garnet Apple winner: Catherine Gustafson

HRSM professor teaches finer points of club management

Catherine Gustafson was working as a general manager at a private club in Columbia in 1993 when a Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management faculty member became ill halfway through the spring semester. She was asked to step in and finish teaching the club management class.

“It was a challenge, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Club management was a career path I learned about after working eight to 10 years in food and beverage, and I was excited it was being offered in the HRTM curriculum,” she says.

When a faculty position opened up two years later to teach the hands-on food laboratory courses and club management — areas that she had worked in for years — she applied for the job.

Fast forward to today, when she is an associate professor in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management credited with growing the university’s expertise in golf course and private club management. She received this year’s Garnet Apple award for innovative teaching.

“In every course I teach, regardless of level or topic, the students are exposed and engaged within the industry. Examples include guest speakers, but also go well beyond, such as site visits to local private clubs and full-day site visits to two premier clubs in Charlotte; pairing seniors with mentors in the club industry; hosting a young managers’ panel on campus every November, which always includes several alumni; and, in select courses, facilitating students gaining hands-on experiential learning opportunities on site,” she says.

Soon after she joined the HRTM faculty, she was encouraged to develop a series of private club specific courses with the goal of creating a club management concentration.

The teacher’s role, I believe, is to coach students, to motivate them to want to learn in order to achieve educational success.

“Private clubs are a smaller industry segment as compared to restaurants, hotels or tourism, yet the HRTM faculty recognized we had a unique opportunity to become a national leader in this field,” Gustafson says. “Ultimately we gained the support of the club industry’s professional association, Club Management Association of America (CMAA), and have achieved that goal.”

The club management program at the University of South Carolina is one of only two in higher education to be officially endorsed by the CMAA, something that has brought national prestige and recognition to UofSC, HRSM, and HRTM. More than 60 private clubs come to campus each year to recruit students.

She also created what has become one of the college’s signature engagement courses — HRTM’s  golf tourism experiential learning class. Gustafson and her students work with several of the big players in the golf industry, including PGA Tour events and PGA of America.

At the start of each semester, Gustafson shares her philosophy of teaching with her students. It includes sections about personal responsibility and accountability, and an appreciation of the rich diversity the students bring to the classroom to enhance everyone’s learning. In turn, Gustafson says her main responsibility is to provide the best learning environment for every student, making it a space where students are free to make contributions and experiment with ideas.

Her philosophy statement reads in part: “The teacher’s role, I believe, is to coach students, to motivate them to want to learn in order to achieve educational success. I will try to demonstrate a need for learning the concepts covered in this course, explaining why it is important to know and relevant to a student’s success in the workplace.”

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