Kiel native Britanni Meinnert was a small-town girl with big-time dreams of using higher education to experience the world.
“I initially got into the hospitality industry major so that I could get out of this area,” Meinnert said with a smile. “But I never left. I think it just speaks volumes about what we have to offer right here in our backyard.”
Meinnert, Lakeland’s first-year instructor of hospitality management, earned her bachelor’s degree in that discipline from Lakeland in 2000. Then, while climbing the ladder for 14 successful years in the industry, she earned her master of Business Administration from Lakeland in 2010.
Now she has come full circle and is guiding Lakeland’s popular hospitality management program as a full-time faculty member.
“People come from all over the world to be within this 20-mile radius,” Meinnert said. “I’m not sure a lot of people realize we’ve got a five-diamond, five-star resort in Kohler. Blue Harbor, right on the lakefront, looks like an ocean resort and attracts families and conferences, and Elkhart Lake is one of the most nostalgic tourist destinations in the country.
“Students go to college for one primary reason, which is to launch rewarding careers. In this industry, there is never a shortage of employment opportunities, especially around here.”
When Meinnert entered the workforce after graduating from Lakeland, she moved up quickly at Kohler Co. By the age of 25, she was front desk manager at the five-star American Club.
“If you are interested in helping create memorable experiences for people, it’s a great field to go into,” she said. “If you don’t like sitting at a desk from 8 to 4 each day, it’s great, because no day is like another. It’s a lot of fun. Your days are spent with people who are on vacation.”
Meinnert plans to build her program around real-world experience, stressing, “This community will be our students’ classroom, and there are many opportunities.”
While resorts, hotels and restaurants are obvious destinations for students with degrees in hospitality management, there are many other options. Meinnert mentions Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, and Miller Park, where the Milwaukee Brewers play. Both are about an hour from Lakeland.
“At Lambeau Field, for example, you’re responsible for feeding more than 80,000 people over the course of more than three hours,” she said. “What an exciting challenge that is.”
She gets excited when talking about the potential of the program, and the opportunities it will provide Lakeland students for years to come.
So while Meinnert never experienced the world like she thought she would while growing up in Kiel, she does think the world of this gem of a region.
“When I had to the opportunity to come back to Lakeland to help guide this program, I felt like I was coming home,” she said. “I did what my heart told me to do, and I never looked back.”
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