Gwen Fontenot is a women with a wide variety of talents and business experience, and serves as the Department Head for Marketing, Hospitality Management & Legal Studies. ultoday.com spoke with her recently.

Tell us about yoursel.

I’m from Acadiana, Evangeline Parish-- the metropolis of Vidrine, where the Fontenot hatchery was for years. I was born and raised in a small family, I had one brother.  I was the first on my mother’s side to even have a college degree, and to have a terminal degree was a pretty big accomplishment   On my dad’s side, I’m one of two with a terminal degree.

I did my undergrad at LSU and ULM in Business Education, and my master’s in Business at ULM, a general MBA.  Then I came to UL for 4 years and taught.  I had all intentions of going to law school, but they wouldn’t let me leave here.  The Dean tried to convince me that I should get a PhD instead of a law degree, and he succeeded.  So I left in 1984.

I love to travel, so I moved away from Acadiana to get my doctorate at North Texas.  After completing my Ph.D., I went to the University of North Colorado, Greeley, where I taught and skied a lot.  I went back to Dallas and was in industry there where I did customer satisfaction research for 10 years.  I was with Service Strategies International and Syndics Research.

Then I moved back here and maintained my own research company, Marketing Solutions.  That’s still up.

I came back here kind of by chance.  My mom died in 1997, and I came back to be with my dad.  I was doing my research in Texas, but with modern technology, you can live anywhere.  So I opened my hi-tech research company in Vidrine.  That way I got to spend the next 10 years with my dad.

But after a while I felt I wanted more intellectual activity, and I met up with Dr. Jim Underwood at a conference, when he was the Department Head for Marketing.  We had worked together before in the 1980s when I was here.  He asked if I was in the market; I lied, and said I was.  He hired me to fill an emergency position. I’ve been here since.

Tell us about the Department.

If I had to describe it in one word it would be ‘dynamic’.  We’re fortunate in that we comprise three very different, but synergistic, areas:  Marketing, Hospitality Management, and Legal Studies.  Of those three, Legal Studies supports the entire College, and Marketing & Hospitality Management have degree programs with majors. We have about 13 full-time faculty, and 6 to 8 part-time faculty, depending on the semester.  This is my third year as Department Head, and we have added at least one full-time faculty member each year, sometimes two.  So it’s a very exciting time.

One of the things the Dean has asked is that the department pick an area of specialization.  We can’t be all things to all people, so we have chosen Culture, Tourism, and Event Marketing.

That really crosses over the three areas; obviously, there’s great overlap between marketing and hospitality management, and there are large legal implications for public events. So that allows us to focus on what makes Acadiana unique. 

One of the things our department is known for is the Lunch Club.  We have two grants for our hospitality program from the Board of Regents, one is to enhance the equipment in the Lunch Club kitchen, the other is to develop a computer simulation for property management, with a front desk, restaurant, housekeeping and all aspects of operating a lodging facility.  As part of that grant, we're also working toward accreditation from a special hospitality accrediting board, ACPHA, the Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration.  We are applying for that through ICHRIE, The International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education.

We’re also in the planning stages for a Hospitality Management concentration in the MBA program.

Another thing about our department is for the last three years, we participated in the UL Study Abroad program.  We offered classes in Paris, Florence, and we are also targeting Quebec City this year.  We’ve offered hospitality & marketing courses, and this year for Quebec we will offer legal studies.

Tell us about your faculty’s research.

In the last 3 years, we have been strengthening the research.  Our faculty are collaborating with each other in each area, across the three areas of the department, and the department collaborates within the College of Business and across the campus.

We have a fairly young faculty, but we just brought in Ram Thakura, very prolific in research; he came from Utah Valley State College. Two years ago Ann Keaty won the research award for the College, and I won it last year.  Ann researches in a variety of topics; my area is mostly customer satisfaction.

Tell us about your students.

One thing that happened recently was that our interns were chosen to go to the Cannes Film Festival last May with Lucy Henke.  That was an international honor.

Our Hospitality and Marketing student organizations are very active, and have won national awards.  Our marketing fraternity, Pi Sigma Epsilon, participated in the national conference where several of our students won scholarships.  We also had two Pi Sig members who were interns for one of the large  pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline.  GSK has a competition with all of their interns, and our students placed second in the US.

The hospitality students have the Hosteurs group, and they are extremely active in the community.  They have recently helped with the March of Dimes, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and they regularly assist with the University Art Museum openings.  They recently helped with a Faith House fundraiser. They serve and help prepare food for every event possible.

I understand you practice what you teach here; you have several outside business activities.

In addition to my research company and teaching, I also have a farm.  I had a cattle ranch, but I sold the cattle, so now I just have a farm.  I own an auction business and was recently licensed in Louisiana as an auctioneer. I’m also part owner in The Acadian, a regional news magazine.

What’s on for the future?

We’d like to operate our own Bed & Breakfast, and a restaurant operated by our students.

We’re also undergoing a curriculum review.  A lot of the employment opportunity is in sales, so we’re working on a sales center.  It would have rooms where students can practice role-playing, and record their sessions on DVD, video tape, audio tape, and maybe it would have one-way mirrors.  That’s one thing we’re working on.

In November, our students attended the Bayou Sales Challenge in Nicholl’s State University.  A lot of major companies sent CEOs and other top people in the company.  They come in, spend some social time with our students, interact with them. They also sponsor a sales competition, give out scholarships to the winners, and typically the top people walk away job offers.  Our students only had three weeks to compare, and went up against other Louisiana schools that had been preparing for a whole year.  We didn't win, but we are starting to plan for it every year, and will have time to prepare them better.