For outstanding leadership, exceptional research, and uncommon dedication, Melissa Baker, associate professor at the Isenberg School of Management and new chair of its Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) Department, has earned some impressive honors. And at the heart of them all is teaching, her truest professional passion, the vocation she continually—and, by all accounts, effectively—redefines.
“A huge part of my philosophy is to move beyond the status quo of ‘this is good enough’ to ‘how can we make this a better experience for our diverse learners in today's world?’” she said. “I'm always trying to learn from the student audience on how to deliver better learning experiences so they can deliver better leadership in the industry.”
It's an approach that hasn’t gone unnoticed by her grateful students and respected colleagues, whose enthusiastic nominations helped drive her selection as this year’s International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (ICHRIE) Excellence in Teaching Award recipient.
The award, which she received at the ICHRIE annual conference in Phoenix on July 20, “recognizes one International CHRIE member for the individual's implementation of innovative, creative, and effective teaching or training techniques in culinary, hospitality, or tourism education at the secondary school, diploma, college, university, or organization level”—a description many in Isenberg’s past and present HTM community might summarize in two words: Melissa Baker.
“Professor Baker joined our department in the fall of 2012, immediately pursuing the full range of responsibilities with a passion I’ve rarely witnessed in my 30+-year career,” wrote Linda K. Enghagen, emeritus professor and then-senior associate dean at Isenberg, in her nomination letter. “She quickly established herself as an outstanding professor who engaged students with her cutting-edge scholarship.”
Within a few years of welcoming Baker, Isenberg had recognized her distinctive, tailored instructional style with a College Outstanding Teacher Award (2016). Several successful fellowships followed and, in 2021, Baker made HTM history as the department’s first-ever member to receive a UMass Amherst Distinguished Teaching Award.
Beyond its international prestige—ICHRIE represents 6 worldwide federations, over 350 academic member institutions, and more than 120,000 students—Baker’s most recent award holds meaning that hits close to home. At the conference, she said, several other awardees spoke of their own connection to Isenberg’s HTM department, some harkening back to its days as HRTA (Hotel Restaurant and Travel Administration).
“Some of them had done their master's here, some of them had taught here. One of the awards is named after the former department head, the Stevenson Fletcher Achievement Award ,” Baker said. “So it was really wonderful to be a part of a group that has such an association to UMass, and of our program's legacy in hospitality and tourism education.”
As for those at the center of her life’s work, Baker makes clear that the admiration and inspiration are mutual.
“Because how amazing are these students?” she asked, after reading aloud a heartfelt email a recent Isenberg graduate had sent her, as students often do. “She's out there now coaching and developing and managing her own team to be better—to deliver better hospitality and to be better leaders. And that is exactly why we do what we do.”