A question appears bigger each time Selina Mullenax ’12 says, “I love my job.” She repeats the phrase three times in the first five minutes of a conversation about her work at CORT Events. Mullenax uses words like “exciting” and “fun” to describe how she customizes furniture and decor for clients.
“We have to be creative,” she says, “because everyone expects the next event to be better than the last.”
The task then becomes more and more difficult. Mullenax has been designing spaces over the past few months for a celebrity-filled Super Bowl party and VIP experience at the Formula 1 race in Miami. She had to make sure everything was perfect for people who might have chosen to attend any party or event in town.
“I like the challenge,” Mullenax says of the growing expectations year after year.
Apply by July 1 for the fall 2022 term of the new Masters in Event Leadership program.
Her career itself has been on an upward trajectory since earning a hospitality and event management degree from UCF in 2012. Among her accolades: UCF’s 30 Under 30 Award, Alumna of the Year by the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, the BizBash 40 Under 40 List and President Elect of the Orlando Chapter of Meeting Professionals International.
Which brings us to the question: Why is Mullenax returning to her alma mater in the fall as a student?
“I understand why someone would ask that question,” Mullenax says. “The events industry has changed a lot over the past 10 years, becoming a niche in its own right. There is an opportunity for people who want to lead the change. It’s no surprise that UCF either in front.
Mullenax will be among 30 professionals who will make up the first cohort of the nation’s first online master’s program in event leadership. They’ve applied for the coveted spots from all over the country (which is why the program is online), and they all echo Mullenax when she says, “I know everything Rosen College produces will be top-notch. .
Rosen’s hospitality program is ranked #1 in the country and #2 in the world, according to the latest ShanghaiRankings of Universities Internationally. The Masters in Event Leadership will make UCF stand out even more.
“We are at the epicenter of hospitality and events,” says associate professor Jeannie Hahm ’04MS ’12PhDwho collaborated with professors Michelle Holm and Deborah Breiter-Terry to develop the new program.
“The location gives us the advantage of gathering expertise from the people who live in the hospitality and event space every day,” says Hahm. “Central Florida is where it all happens, so that’s where everyone is looking for direction.”
UCF’s 50-person Events Management Advisory Committee is a dream team of professionals from hotels, restaurants, theme parks, and sports and entertainment venues. They work on events as varied as conventions and weddings, the soccer World Cup and the Special Olympics. They are keenly aware of the skills needed to create first class events – including technology, risk management and sustainability – without ever losing sight of the ‘wow’ factor.
“A formal, graduate-level program focused on developing leadership skills for high-level event management professionals will enable this dynamic industry to grow and evolve beyond our current vision,” said Joe Dzaluk, president and CEO of the 2022 Special Olympics in the United States, who will be hosted in Orlando in June. “It is important that graduates have an advanced ability to think critically about existing and emerging challenges, analyze and assess global industry trends and market forces, and have the skills to develop and execute a strategic plan.”
Hahm is no stranger to early graduate programs at UCF. In fact, his role within the MA in Event Leadership deserves a bit of history. She grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and earned her first college degree there, a bachelor’s degree in social work. Social work had its rewards, but it also weighed on Hahm emotionally, so she took a job helping open a hotel in the late 1990s. A plummeting economy prevented the hotel from opening , but the job gave her a taste of the hospitality and events industry.
“I never forgot it,” says Hahm.
When she and her husband finally moved to Orlando, Hahm discovered UCF’s Rosen College.
“I didn’t know there was a hotel management school, so I started another bachelor’s degree because my mother told me, ‘Always continue your studies if you have the chance,'” she says.
At the start of her first semester at UCF, a professor told Hahm that she would rather be part of the school’s first cohort of master’s degrees in hospitality and tourism management. For fieldwork, she volunteered at the Orange County Convention Center and explored hotels and parks. She enjoyed the research so much that she was awarded a doctorate. in another inaugural program at UCF: teaching with a hotel industry.
And then she got a job as an assistant professor at the University of Alabama.
“I liked it, but something was wrong,” Hahm said. “I would be teaching hospitality and events, and every illustration I would give would be from the Orlando area.”
Hahm jumped at the chance to return to UCF in 2015, where she would soon work with faculty and the Events Management Advisory Council to combine her experience with research into the formation of the much-needed graduate program. .
“It’s become like in a lot of industries where an undergraduate degree isn’t enough for management positions anymore,” Hahm says, “but right now employers can only ask for an MBA. We’re going to change that. .
In two years, the 30 students in this first cohort will be the first to tell employers that they have a master’s degree in event leadership.
“The idea that we’re going to learn from each other is a big part of why I want to do this,” Mullenax says. “It’s a reflection of how the events industry works today – it’s more collaborative than competitive. I specialize in decoration, so I always work with people from other companies who specialize in things like software or sound and lighting. Now we will be in the same cohort and will follow the program together. I’m happy to start.