BU Dean Arun Upneja Conceptualizes and Hosts Inaugural 5th Gear Shift Symposium

Arun Upneja
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BOSTON – This past weekend, Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration (BU SHA) hosted its first 5th Gear Shift: Women Navigating & Powering Your Career, a weekend-long symposium designed to educate female students on the skills, knowledge, perspectives, and actions required to empower their choices and become successful leaders in the hospitality industry. The conference was developed on three founding pillars: confidence, communication, and change.

Serving as an opportunity for empowered women to empower other women of all ages, the workshop was conceptualized by Dean Arun Upneja, in partnership with prominent female industry leaders. Panels covered topics ranging from leveraging confidence in the workplace, driving personal messaging, and shifting possibilities, among other focus areas.

“Through the creation of this conference, we wanted to level the playing field by giving our female students tools, access, knowledge, and confidence to reach their full potential within the industry,” said Dr. Arun Upneja, Dean of the School, who also served on the workshop’s planning committee. Young women comprise approximately 75 percent of BU SHA’s enrolled students.

The mission of the 5th Gear Shift symposium was to provide female students in the Hospitality Administration program at BU an opportunity to connect with successful industry leaders to guide, inspire, and educate them in building a foundation of skills that will advance their personal and professional goals.

“Perspectives shifted and lives were changed this weekend, as feedback from the students reinforced,” said Andrea Foster, SVP Development for Marcus Hotels & Resorts, who served as co-chair and Change workshop leader. “It was an honor and a privilege to share wisdom and inspiration with our future industry leaders.”

According to the white paper Women in Tourism & Hospitality: Unlocking the Potential in the Talent Pool, although women make up close to 70 percent of the total workforce in the international hospitality industry, they hold less than 40 percent of all managerial and supervisory positions. As a result, corporate boards within the hospitality business are comprised of only five to eight percent women.

Arun Upneja

“Being in this industry, which is very male-driven, it’s really hard as a woman to come up and be able to talk about my opinions and speak up when I’m afraid of being shut down by others,” said Anisha Nawalrai, a junior in the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration. “This conference was really helpful because we got to work on who we are and how we can present ourselves to others by showing and exuding confidence.”

“Currently, about 50 to 60 percent of hospitality industry graduates are women; however, only about 10 percent of those women are represented at industry conferences and events. This workshop was designed to raise awareness, inspire students and outline a path for pursuing leadership positions within the industry,” said Fern Kanter, Managing Director & EVP of CHMWarnick, who served as co-chair and Communication workshop leader.

“As these young women launch their careers, it is critical they are armed with the tools they will need to successfully navigate their journeys – confidence, communication, and the willingness to embrace change,” said Nancy Medoff, VP Global Sales of BCD Meetings and Events, who served as co-chair and Confidence workshop leader. “The transformation in these women throughout the weekend was nothing short of remarkable, and I could not be more proud to be associated with this event.”

Kymbeerly Irizarry, a senior concentrating in real estate, shared, “All of the workshops built on each other and made you change your paradigm at every moment. The Change workshop taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable; the Communication workshop taught me not to be afraid to take up space and that I have value to give; and the Confidence workshop taught me how to be able to understand my own value.”

The three-day event kicked off with an opening keynote by Lisa Nickerson, Principal & Founder of Nickerson PR & Nickerson RE, followed by a panel that included Julia Heyer, Managing Director of Heyer Performance; Nala Holmes, Manager – Business Development & Acquisitions for Pyramid Hotel Group; Rachel Oppenheimer, Director – Food & Nutrition for Sodexo – Newton Public Schools; and Karen Whitman, Senior Director of Development – Northeast Region for Hilton Worldwide. Roslyn Winegrad, Area VP Owner & Franchise Services for Marriott International, and Dawn Berry, CEO/Founder of PHD Hospitality, also provided compelling keynote addresses to the students.

Highlights of the weekend workshop included an engaging panel discussion about powering women’s careers, leadership roles, and professional success that focused on changes across generations; intimate networking opportunities with top female industry leaders; and interactive seminars highlighting confidence, communication, and change.

“This is such a great opportunity, and there are so many inspiring women out there. We need more conferences like this,” said Ally Rung, a senior concentrating in marketing.




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