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Inside Kendall

Creating and Planning a Hotel Driven by Sustainability

capstone-108The room buzzed with activity: Tradeshow booths received final touches, teams held last-minute meetings, and executives, faculty and fellow students gathered in the auditorium. The 2016 Capstone Project presentations—the culmination of more than 20 weeks of work by teams made up of hospitality, business, and culinary students—were about to begin.

“This is a six-month project that requires students to collaborate to write a business plan, develop a presentation, which is truly an investor pitch, and make the concept come to life in a tradeshow booth,” explains Dr. Sue Tinnish, the dean of the School of Hospitality Management. “Capstone requires students to take every piece of content they have learned, from market research to interior design and menus, and craft it into a tightly woven, well-thought-out presentation.”

This year, the team that made the most lasting impression for faculty and investors alike was Change the World (CTW) Management, which was honored for best pitch, tradeshow booth, overall concept, and for its sustainability program. The international team included  Kim Nowak (CEO, USA), Zoe Richardson (COO, Australia), Lidiia Komisarchuk (CMO, Ukraine), Vin Kumaranayake (CFO, Sri Lanka), Nate Long (Director of Sustainability, USA), Aushim Nair (Director of Digital Marketing, India), Krystyna Kapera (Director of Food Services, USA), Nicole Skalak (Director of Meetings and Events, USA), and Beau Erzinger (Director of Beverages, USA).

capstone-113Their concept was the Agora Hotel, a Chicago-based property designed with sustainability—and guest engagement—in mind, from construction to daily operations. “From our first meeting, I knew we wanted to be focused on sustainability,” shares Nowak. “Toward the end of the project, this was a green hotel, down to the ‘ugly fruit’ served in our restaurants.”

“Our passion drove our project and came through in each detail of our plan,” adds Erzinger. The team believes that sustainability and taking care of society is important from beginning to end, which is why the project began with deconstruction that focused on reusing or selling furniture, fixtures, and equipment in good condition. The refinished space included a garden that relied on gray water, a two-story living wall, green certified restaurants that use less-than-perfect fruit and produce in its menus, low-energy and -water use appliances, high-tech keyless guest room access, and staff who are focused not only on customer service, but share Agora’s passion for sustainability.

The team ensured Agora is also committed to community involvement, which is detailed in everything from local beer selections for its restaurants to a robust volunteer program that allows chefs to partner with after school programs to teach children how to prepare healthy meals. “There is no reason to be just another box with smaller boxes that have beds in them,” the team members explained in their final paper. “Customers are beginning to care more and more about sustainability, where their food comes from, and the carbon footprints businesses leave. It is time to capitalize on that, make a profit, and change the world.”

The project is also a simulation of what students will encounter once they graduate: interdepartmental collaboration to support a project from start to finish. “Capstone is the culmination of all your classes,” explained Richardson. “People have different strengths and concentrations, which helped us build a strong team. This project tied all of my classes together.”

Kendall students will present their next Capstone project on Friday, September 16.  Learn more about Capstone through the student-produced website at

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