It was Jim Purdum, a 1977 food service and housing administration graduate of Penn State, while serving as head of Penn State Hospitality Services (PSHS), who saw an opportunity to provide students with real world experiences at two hotels on campus.
“It used to be that School of Hospitality Management students could graduate from our program without ever setting foot in either of our two on-campus hotels,” said John O’Neill, professor and director of the Center for Hospitality Real Estate Strategy. “Now, thanks to Jim’s efforts, all of our students spend time in both hotels through the School of Hospitality Management hotel management practicum curriculum. Beyond that, our students also have an opportunity to apply for paid internships in both hotels, as well as in the Hospitality Services food service operations formerly supervised by Jim.”
Purdum retired June 30 after 26 years of service to the University. He was responsible for overall operations of The Nittany Lion Inn, an AAA 4 Diamond property, and The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, an IACC (International Association of Conference Centers) certified facility.
Purdum left a lasting impact on the School of Hospitality Management (SHM), which will long be remembered by many within the school, including Daniel Mount, associate professor.
“Jim Purdum’s commitment to the educational mission of the Penn State hotels has never wavered,” Mount said. “He has provided opportunities for thousands of SHM students to gain experience in hotel operations through a variety of experiences at the hotels — internships, executive internships, class practicums, etc. He has not only been able to provide those opportunities, but he has constantly worked with SHM faculty on improving the quality of those experiences.”
Gary Budge, a 1972 food service and housing administration graduate of Penn State and principal of Budge and Co. LLC Consultants in New York City, described Purdum as a “tactical leader” trained and nurtured by hospitality legend Richard “Dick” Benefield, a 1948 hotel administration graduate.
“Jim knew Penn State had a natural resource with the two living laboratories, The Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater, and that something had to be done to align the students who were not complete in their professional training without hands on experience,” Budge said.
Purdum worked diligently with administrators to create a comprehensive internship program allowing thousands of hospitality management students to understand and apply their education in a real setting while working with full-time hospitality associates and guests, Budge said.
“Jim accomplished that task through training, support and coaching, and today one can see the results at either hotel, as it is evident in the pride shown by the team as they guide and share information about their profession with students daily,” Budge said. “This is another example of why Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management experience is different, unique and special among all hospitality programs globally, and it was powered by the commitment of Jim Purdum.”
David Miles, a 1967 food service and housing administration graduate and chairman of Miles Lehane Companies, Inc. – OI Global Partners in Leesburg, Va., said his son Scott, a 1998 Penn State graduate, is a direct beneficiary of the programs coordinated by Purdum.
“Bringing together classroom learning and real world applications is a hallmark of Jim’s efforts,” Miles said. “Jim realized at the outset that Penn State exists for the students, and therefore that should be, and is, the focus of the many opportunities he created for student learning and student support.”
Throughout his career Purdum has been honored with several awards, including the 2013 Silver Plate Award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association, which is the highest operator award in the food service industry. In 2004 he was recognized by the Penn State Hotel and Restaurant Society as Alumnus of the Year. He is also a recipient of Penn State’s Barash Award for Human Service and the State Leadership Award from the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
“Jim was a huge supporter of the School of Hospitality Management and its students during his entire tenure with Penn State Hospitality Services,” said Jeff Heim, senior instructor and internship coordinator. “His push to incorporate rotations of all SHM students through front office, housekeeping and engineering operations at the PSHS hotels is a great testament to his commitment and legacy. He will be missed.”
Purdum credits Benefield for his career at Penn State. Their professional relationship began when Purdum was a student and Benefield a professional who spoke to Purdum’s class. The discussion inspired Purdum to talk to Benefield afterward, which led to an internship with Benefield at Hotel Magee in Bloomsburg, Pa.
Later, Benefield acted as special consultant to the University for The Nittany Lion Inn and the development of the Penn Stater and Mateer Building, which houses the School of Hospitality Management. At the time, Benefield encouraged Purdum to work for The Nittany Lion Inn. Later, the University hired Benefield as the general manager and upon Benefield’s retirement, Purdum was appointed as general manager.
“I never would have had the opportunity to work for Dick and come back to my alma mater if had not been for an internship,” Purdum said. “Having the determination to go up and introduce myself — that’s the reason I ended up at Penn State with such a marvelous career and an opportunity to raise my family in this beautiful community.”
Purdum is a past president and active board member of the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society. He served as chairman of the board of directors for the Centre Communities Chapter of The American Red Cross, president of The Arc of Centre County, and member of the board of directors for the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. He is a frequent volunteer for the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games and volunteers for various Centre County United Way initiatives, including serving as project coordinator for the United Way’s annual Day of Caring.
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