The hospitality management program at Cal Poly Pomona started with two faculty members and 34 students in the School of Business Administration in 1973. The hospitality industry was booming in the 1970s and in need of trained professionals, so the campus heeded the call of business leaders and became the first university on the West Coast to offer a four-year hospitality management degree.
Five decades later, the little upstart program has become recognized locally, nationally and globally, recently ranking No. 5 in the world on CEOWorld Magazine’s list of the 2023 “Best Hospitality and Hotel Management Schools.”
Michele Gendreau (’83, hotel and restaurant management), director of food and beverage, product optimization for Disneyland Resort, said that it has been amazing to see The Collins College of Hospitality Management grow over the years, change names and become a college of its own.
“It’s pretty exciting to see Collins turn 50,” said Gendreau at a recent anniversary celebration for the college. “It takes us alumni on a journey. That journey of turning 50 is shocking, but it makes complete sense. The industry has expanded, and the college has expanded with it.”
Those 50 years are marked by many milestones. In 1986, the program separated from the School of Business Administration to become the Center for Hospitality Management. The James and Carol Collins Center for Hospitality Management, named after the restaurateurs who supported the program both financially and with their time, opened in 1990. The Collins Center became the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management in 1991, was renamed The Collins School of Hospitality Management in 1999 and became a college in 2008. Similarly, the college’s physical space has gone through several phases of construction over the years including a major expansion that was completed in 2015.
Associate Dean Michael D. Godfrey (’83, zoology), who worked in the restaurant industry after graduation and has been with The Collins College since 1997, began as a front-of-the house instructor at The Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch. He credits the support of business professionals in the hospitality industry, alumni and donors with helping the program grow and thrive.
“Most of us come from the industry,” he said. “People here have a particular sense of pride, especially those who were here when there was only one building.”
Eva Wassermann (’86, hotel and restaurant management), who has served on The Collins College’s board of advisors for 23 years, said it is “surreal” how the program has grown. She credits keeping up with trends and innovations as one of the main reasons for that growth.
“It’s very much needed in the industry to have people at the college who have kept the curriculum relevant and strong,” she said. “We have an amazing team in the college that thinks fresh and provides students with not just an education, but an opportunity that enables them to be successful.”
An important part of that forward thinking and leadership is Dean Margie Ferree Jones, Ph.D. The longtime faculty member of the program served as interim dean for a year before being hired for the permanent post in July 2023.
Wassermann lauded Jones for her dedication and heart for the students.
“She improves their experiences and who they are as students, and she takes that very personally,” Wassermann said. “She loves the students, and she loves Collins College. It is something very important to her.”
Bridget Bilinski (’79, hotel and restaurant management), chair of the college’s board of advisors, said a ripple of enthusiasm and joy went through the board when Jones became dean.
“For me personally, the joy was enormous, because she’d already been a friend,” Bilinski said. “It’s exciting to be able to work with someone I respect and know has a smart plan for the future of The Collins College. More importantly, I truly feel I have already built a trusted friendship with Dean Jones and knew it would be gratifying to help support her vision. The board knew how much she loved the campus and how much her students love her. This love and support of her extends beyond the campus to years and years of alumni, donors, faculty and board members. I can’t think of anyone more trusted and capable of guiding the college into the future as Dean Jones. She will help us navigate any hurdles and keep The Collins College’s vision always in focus.”
Prior to joining The Collins College faculty in 1990, Jones worked as a manager with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. She served as the business manager for the RKR for over 10 years. She is a certified wine educator and a certified sommelier, earning her the moniker “The Wine Professor.” Jones, who earned a bachelor’s in economics from Indiana University, a master’s in hotel administration from Cornell University and a doctorate in educational studies from Claremont Graduate University, has taught courses in strategic leadership, marketing, special events, food and beverage, and hotel/resort planning and development.
At the college’s anniversary celebration, Jones recalled when she was first hired to teach. She got the job on Dec. 14 and classes started Jan. 2, she said.
She taught three nights a week — classes in purchasing; wine, beers and spirits; and supervision.
“I prepped all day and taught all night,” Jones said, “and I was hooked.”
In the past few years, the hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, something that impacts students working to earn degrees and find jobs as well. Jones said she plans to continue to push to make the college the best it can be.
“I have had the pleasure of being a part of the Collins College for over 30 years and thank those leaders who worked so hard to get the college where it is today,” Jones said. “Those leaders include not only those previous deans, faculty, and staff internal to Collins but others within the University and the many donors, the dedicated Board of Advisors, and alumni who have supported the college in countless ways. This is an exciting time to lead, and I will do everything I can to advance Collins College along its path for continued success over the next 50 years.”