Every weekend while growing up in Queens, New York, Lydia Stetson ’19 and her family went out to eat.
“It was always something we did,” Stetson says. “We would come together as a family and review how our weeks were going.”
Those get-togethers instilled in Stetson a love for restaurants that remains with her today—she plans to pursue a career in restaurants after she graduates. “I love the warmth and hospitality,” she says. “It’s a business focused on guests and making sure they are feeling good.”
This semester, Stetson shared her affection for restaurants with fellow Babson students by participating in the Senior-Led Seminar program. Now in its eighth year, the program allows seniors to teach a six-week, noncredit course on subjects that they are passionate about. “The Senior-Led Seminar is a wonderful Babson tradition,” says Ian Lapp, dean of the Undergraduate School. “It embodies an essential element of our undergraduate experience: peer-to-peer learning.”
Stetson’s course, Restaurant Operations and Innovation 101, took a comprehensive look at the business of restaurants. Among the topics it examined were financials and margins, legal issues, staffing, franchising, the design of the guest experience, and the difference between service and hospitality. The course also included a panel discussion featuring five speakers from the industry, as well as a field trip to the Boston location of Mainely Burgers, a small burger chain co-founded by Jack (’16) and Max (’17) Barber.
“I wanted to create a class that I would have wanted to take,” says Stetson. She admits that planning the course was a lot of work, but she found the experience rewarding. “It’s such a good feeling when someone comes up after class and says, ‘Thank you.’”
Nearly 70 students took one of five Senior Seminars this semester. “It amazes us that so many students sign up for these noncredit seminars,” says Tracey Reza, assistant dean of the Undergraduate School, who runs the program with Kerry Rourke, senior lecturer in English.
Lauren Budzich ’19 is one of those students. She’s taken a Senior Seminar all four years she has attended Babson. “The teachers come from a place of passion,” Budzich says. “The courses mean so much to them.”
Students chosen to teach a Senior Seminar must attend a couple of trainings, which focus on issues such as classroom management and putting together a syllabus. Besides Stetson’s course, other classes this year included The Psychology of Social Media with Dylan Goren ’19, Reaching the Multicultural Consumer with Aidan Dennis ’19, The Business of Film with Isaiah Williams ’19, and Fly the Friendly Skies: The Airline Industry from Takeoff to Landing with Adam Kershner ’19.
Such eclectic courses in the Senior-Led Seminar program, which began in 2012 thanks to a donation in the memory of the late Donald White ’50, can help inform what classes are ultimately offered by Babson professors, says Reza. Demand for Senior Seminars about the fashion industry, for instance, eventually contributed to Caroline Daniels, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship, teaching a class on Entrepreneurship in Fashion. “That really was informed by this consistent interest coming from the Senior Seminars,” Reza says.
Stetson, along with the other Senior Seminar teachers, has firsthand experience with her subject matter.
She has interned with RealFood Consulting, a firm that helps clients to start new restaurants or fix issues with pre-existing ones, and with the Union Square Hospitality Group, where Stetson served as a front-of-house intern, which meant rotating through a number of restaurant positions. She even helped in the prep kitchen, arriving at 6 a.m. to spend hours chopping carrots and helping make deviled eggs.
While studying abroad in Japan, Stetson did an internship with Rich Table, which is developing an app that’s basically a cross between Yelp and Instagram for restaurants. Currently, she’s employed as a server at O Ya, a Boston sushi restaurant. “If I’m going to work in restaurants after graduation, I’ve got to spend time in them,” says Stetson, who is keeping her options open in terms of where she’ll end up after leaving Babson. She has interviewed at the corporate offices of fast-food chains, as well as at fine-dining establishments in California and New York City.
Stetson’s peers brought their own experiences to the seminar—roughly half of the 20 students who took Stetson’s course came from a restaurant background. One student’s family owns a restaurant in China, while another’s owns an eatery in India. The family of still another student owns a chain of diners.
Stetson saw her class as a community of like-minded people who all learned from one another. “It’s a conversation,” she says. “I will tell you what I know, and I’ll ask questions, and you’ll tell me what you know.”
The end result was a class that was fulfilling and inspiring for students and teacher alike. “I was so humbled people enrolled in the course,” Stetson says. “When the students arrived for class, I always said, ‘Thank you for coming.’”
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