Marriott endows Howard University with $20 million to create hospitality program honoring Arne Sorenson

Feb 24, 2021

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Marriott International announced today that the family behind the global hotel giant would create the Arne M. Sorenson Hospitality Fund to support the design of a “world-class hospitality program and curriculum” at Howard University, a historically Black school in Washington, D.C.

The endowment is named after former CEO Arne Sorenson, who lost his battle with cancer earlier this month. The funds will be used to launch the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership at Howard’s School of Business.

“Arne’s passion for creating a culture of opportunity brought real change in the executive ranks of our company,” J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., the executive chairman and chairman of the board at Marriott International, said in a statement. “But work remains to be done.”

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As a Howard alumnus, this endowment holds special meaning to me.

I wasn’t really exposed to travel until I enrolled at Howard and took service and cultural immersion trips to Haiti, Ghana and Germany. And I would have loved an opportunity to also learn about the hospitality industry as a student.

For too many people, these doors remain closed.

J.W. Marriott, Jr., said the industry “needs a pipeline of diverse leadership talent,” and the Center will help make this possible. “We are proud to bring Marriott International and our family foundation together,” he added, “to partner with this esteemed university in the city of our founding.”

The program will give Howard students access to top hospitality executives and industry leaders. The Marriott family foundation and Howard University also plan to create a hospitality industry advisory council. Marriott says the goal will be to “expose students to the hospitality industry through a management lens.”

I know firsthand how this endowment will benefit current and future Howard students.

I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Howard’s School of Communications — just down the hill from the School of Business. And, full disclosure, my connection to Howard runs even deeper: I spent two years (first as an adjunct, then as a full-time instructor) teaching journalism to over 400 students.

As an instructor, I often spoke to my students about the travel industry’s lack of diversity and inclusion. African Americans are disproportionately underrepresented, even though they spent nearly $130 billion on travel in 2019. Hopefully, this program will help fix those disparities.

“Lack of diversity in the executive ranks of companies across America has long been a headline and has been further elevated in the national conversation as we are in this important moment of racial reckoning,” said Howard President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, in response to the endowment.

And so this gift from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation will no doubt help Howard’s students become leaders in the travel and hospitality space.

Feature photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

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