Auburn Hospitality Management Program Hosts Annual Hospitality Gala for First Time since start of COVID-19 Pandemic

Graham Brooks | Communications Editor

After more than three years, student planners in the Auburn University College of Human Sciences Hospitality Management program were eager to put on their elegant attire and to showcase their skills in synchronized service as their hard work and planning came to fruition as hosts of the 27th annual Hospitality Gala at The Hotel at Auburn University on Thursday, April 21.

The annual Hospitality Gala recognized two distinguished Auburn alumni as Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department, received the Horst Schulze Award for Excellence in Hospitality, while Catherine Wayman, creative director for C. Wayman Floral & Events in Atlanta, received the Outstanding Alumna Award.

Wayman, who graduated from Auburn with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management in the College of Human Sciences in 2007, said she still uses the customer service principles she learned at Auburn when planning events and providing cutting-edge floral designs for many celebrity clients.

“Back in the day I was in this class as well and it’s a lot of planning,” Wayman said. “It’s probably the most realistic thing in my opinion if you want to go into the hospitality world to do. I feel like people might think I’m over exaggerating it just because of the position I’m in but I truly think that things echo in my head like customer service principles that we were taught and even when I ventured out into other industries I still use those concepts I learned at Auburn.”

Since 1992, Auburn’s Hospitality Management program has hosted a formal dinner and auction as the program’s signature event and the culmination of a semester long event management course. Students enrolled in the catering and event management class continued this tradition of excellence by planning, organizing, executing and facilitating the annual Hospitality Gala under the direction of Dr. Alecia Douglas, hospitality management associate professor.

"Students spent the semester in active planning and deliberate coordination with a number of suppliers and vendors such as Tori Brinson Designs for florals, BBJ Linens, Pre Event Resources, and B&B Beverage Management to produce an event to remember,” Douglas said. “I could not have been more proud to see how our students executed to the highest level."

Current upperclassmen in Auburn University’s Hospitality Management program have been unable to host a live in-person gala because the event has not taken place since 2018 in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, 2022 brought renewed hope and all signs are pointing in a positive direction when it comes to the future of the hospitality and tourism industry.

Worth Willis, a senior graduating with a Hospitality Management degree and minors in Business Administration and Communications, said this is the first year she’s been able to experience the Hospitality Gala in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic in years past.

“It’s surreal. It feels fake almost just because we finally get to see it come together in full force and I’ve really learned how to work with a team,” Willis said. “Especially coming out of COVID and as hectic as it’s been it’s been interesting to learn to work with a team, especially this big.”

This year’s planning committee consisted of a record 45 students as well as College of Human Sciences hospitality management faculty and professional industry partners at The Hotel at Auburn University.

During the Hospitality Gala, guests were treated to a four course meal prepared by renowned chefs and winemakers from across the U.S. and the world who have showcased excellence in their respective fields. The gala is student-led and served as the capstone project for students pursuing the event management track.

In addition, guests had the ability to participate in a live auction where they could bid on packages such as a Sea Island golf experience, a mountaintop escape to Cashiers, N.C., a night on the town with Auburn Men’s Basketball head coach Bruce Pearl and more.

Before receiving the Horst Schulze Award for Excellence in Hospitality, Sentell said his work within the hospitality and tourism industry has led him to many opportunities to meet important leaders and current Auburn University students can also find much success in the hospitality management industry.

“The jobs I’ve had have given me opportunities to become very good friends with some of the early astronauts and the tourism agency is broad enough that we can find lots of ways to promote different parts of the state because our state is very diverse,” Sentell said. “Six of the last seven years, except for the COVID year of 2020, our industry has grown by one billion new people a year spending $1 billion more than the year before.”

When asked what the grand opening of The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center in July will mean for Auburn University, the College of Human Sciences’ program and the state of Alabama, Sentell said it will have an “unbelievable impact.”

For more information on The Hospitality Gala, visit