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Kabak, Gina


Meet Our People: Dr. Gina Kabak 

 Dr.Gina Kabak

Meet Dr. Gina Kabak
She has hobnobbed with Bruce Springsteen and the New York Jets and Giants and Wayne Gretzky and hundreds of other luminaries in the entertainment and sports fields. She also knows the thrills and spills of running her own multi-million-dollar high-school-reunion planning business. But she never really fulfilled her heart’s desire until she discovered Union County College in 2007.
Dr. Kabak is the College’s Associate Professor of Business and both the architect and the teacher for the College’s popular associate degree program in Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management.
Q: So how does a high-powered event planning executive like you wind up at Union County College?
A: Not a lot of people know this, but I actually am an alumnus of Union and graduated with a Business degree. Then after receiving a bachelor’s degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I helped open the property for what was then the newly constructed Sheraton Meadowlands, which serves the Meadowlands (sports complex in East Rutherford).
Q: You went directly from college into a conferencing job with a major hotel at the Meadowlands?
A: Actually, while I was at FDU, the Sheraton Corporation invited 150 students to interview for fifteen intern positions in Boston. I wasn’t selected but George Greene, a Sheraton executive, called me to say, “I don’t want you in Boston. You’re a Jersey girl and I want you for a New Jersey property”—so that’s how I wound up in the Meadowlands.
Q: And you went right to a high-paying convention services job?
A: I actually started in Human Resources. I was promised that after I helped in hiring and training 400 employees I could move into Convention Services. They knew I liked being in the front of the house and didn’t mind working long hours—and as they say, “getting my hands dirty.” So after six months, I became the coordinator with a small staff. We would take care of all the visiting football and hockey teams as well as conventions, symposiums, and concerts—performers, bands, and even roadies.
Q: Sounds pretty exciting.
A: The days were long but rewarding. That’s what I mean when I explain to students about paying your dues. We’d work seven days a week, usually from 7 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. But after a while, what happens to most of us in the profession happened to me—I was getting burnt out. I wound up going to other, less-demanding positions, including a catering position at a Holiday Inn in Somerset for short period, and then six years at another Sheraton in Woodbridge as a Director of Catering. But by the time my son turned two, my husband and I realized that I needed to find something with that would give me a better quality of life. First I became Vice President of Operations for a High School Reunion Planning business that arranged 400 reunions a year. Later I started my own reunions company and ran that for three years.
Q: So how’d you wind up in teaching?
A: Well, I had learned quite a bit about the industry over the years and I felt I needed to share my experiences with those who were new to the industry. Teaching seemed like a natural career progression for me. I became a teacher at a vocational-technical school in a program for hotels and restaurants. The students were mostly going into entry-level positions. However, teaching at a Vo Tech was quite an eye-opener for me. It was a difficult transition because I was going from a professional work atmosphere into a chaotic environment. Many of the students weren’t at all interested in learning. I came to see that if I wanted to teach students who really wanted to learn, I needed to move beyond the high-school level. So I enrolled in a master’s program at Thomas Edison State College and earned a master’s in Science of Management. I taught at the Vo Tech for eight years and then went to Middlesex County College as an adjunct.
Q: And then Union County College came into the picture?
A: In 2007, I had an opportunity to be a consultant at Union to help develop a Hotel and Restaurant program, and then was offered a position on the faculty, which I gratefully accepted. Once I got into education on a college level, I saw that this is where I always wanted to be. I love the give and take with students. The ones we have at Union really do inspire me. I get the opportunity to share the knowledge I have from having worked in the industry, and at the same time I am constantly learning from my students.
Q: OK, and what about the doctorate?
A: I came to higher education with a certain view about work. I mean, I was used to having a 90-hour work week, so balancing my work as a professor with my studies as a doctoral student was something I felt comfortable doing. I would be up at two in the morning grading papers or writing my own papers. It helped too that my program was at Capella University because I like being an on-line learner.
Q: And you graduated last year with a doctorate in Business Administration.
A: Yes, in August of 2014. What I gained from the doctorate is confidence in my abilities to do research, and that has helped me immeasurably with my teaching.
Q: How so?
A: Well, I really came to appreciate the value of research. Let’s say my students are studying sustainability in the industry or as a case study for a specific company. All of us are working together to gather information and share ideas. The ideas come from all different perspectives. I mean, that’s what I love about Union—the wide variety of students we have. They possess the full gamut of skills and interests, whether it’s for tourism or hotel management or business in general. Some, when they graduate, are going directly into hotels as line employees. Others will go very far as managers and general managers. Our students are just amazing. They’re the reason I’m here at Union County College. Helping them learn is my true calling in life.
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