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How to Use Your HTM Master’s Capstone Project as a Career Launchpad


April 13, 2017

By: Adam Edelman

The 18 months you spend with the San Diego State University Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) Master’s Program culminate with what’s called the “Capstone Project.” Far from your typical, write-and-receive-a-grade thesis, the Capstone Project gives you a chance to shine within your organization and showcase the professional development you’ve gained from the Master’s Program. Sound like something you could benefit from? Here’s a little more insight from my experience with the Capstone Project.

What is the Capstone Project?

The Capstone Project is a cross between a class, a school project, and a work project. The goal is to design and implement an initiative that brings noticeable improvement to your organization and/or its customers. Lori Sipe, the HTM professor who guides students through their projects, naturally describes the Capstone perfectly:

“You lead a team of people within your company (and perhaps some people outside of your company, too) toward a defined goal. The project runs for 12-15 weeks, and you provide a weekly update on your progress, including any challenges, project management tools used, and deliverables. You receive feedback each week, alternating between faculty and peers.

To complete the Capstone Project, you compile the information into three different submissions: 1) an executive summary report, 2) a professional presentation, and 3) an online case study. All of the deliverables are created with an executive-level audience in mind.”

Sample Capstone Project

Let’s give a face to the Capstone Project to help you visualize the impact it can have on your career and the company you work for. We’ll use my project as an example.

I’ve worked with Hyatt Regency since 2009. At the time of my Capstone Project (2015), Hyatt was introducing our new global purpose, “We care for people so they can be their best.” I aligned my project with Hyatt’s desire to differentiate from other brands and led a San Francisco team that was responsible for re-envisioning all touch points of both the guest and employee experience.

We used Stanford University’s design thinking technique to gather feedback from guests and colleagues on how we could improve a specific experience, with the key ideas derived from meaningful conversations with guests. Take for instance, the arrival experience. We went out and spoke with people about what makes an arrival experience at a hotel special. Then, we brainstormed ideas and created prototypes to enhance the arrival experience at Hyatt Regency San Francisco.

The result of the project was the creation of a Guest Experience Manager focused specifically on communicating with guests from pre-arrival through departure. Two and a half years later, the position not only still exists, but has become vital to the San Francisco team’s success.

What Makes the Capstone Project Such a Fantastic Opportunity?

Most theses are primarily research-focused. You will certainly do plenty of research for your Capstone Project, but the magic is in the execution. The Capstone Project enables you to break away from simply writing about something and apply your knowledge, skills, and ideas.

For me, the Capstone became a high-profile project that dramatically improved my internal networking opportunities and placed me alongside decision makers whom I might never have crossed paths with otherwise. It challenged me to drive change and showed me just how much I was capable of accomplishing. I have been promoted twice since starting my Master’s in 2014, most recently to Director of Food and Beverage at Hyatt Regency Austin.

The Key to Capstone Success

My one piece of advice with the Capstone Project is to pick something outside of your daily responsibilities. Develop an idea that stretches your current role and puts you in the spotlight for the next role you wish to move into. For more information on the nuts and bolts of the HTM Master’s Capstone Project, I encourage you to click over to Lori Sipe’s full article, which also includes some great insight as to why the HTM Master’s Program believes in knowledge-based learning.

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