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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Graphic reading 2022-23 HRSM Faculty/Staff Awards with headshots of Paul Graham, Cheng (Grace) Yan, Kevin Ayres and Walter Jackson.

2023 College of HRSM faculty and staff awards

The University of South Carolina College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management is proud to announce the winners of its 2023 Faculty and Staff Awards. The winners were recognized at an awards ceremony on April 25 in front of their peers and colleagues.

Paul Graham
Harry E. and Carmen S. Varney Distinguished Teacher of the Year

  • David Cardenas, Paul Graham and Matt Dunn pose together for a photo

Congratulations to Department of Sport and Entertainment Management Instructor Paul Graham, the 2023 recipient of the Harry E. and Carmen S. Varney Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award.

The Distinguished Teacher of the Year award is the college's top teaching honor. The winner is determined by a committee of faculty, staff and students. Students across the college sent in dozens of nominations. The committee then conducted a rigorous review process, selecting one finalist to represent each primary department within the college. Further evaluation of the finalists then took place as the committee finished the difficult task of choosing a winner.

"He teaches with passion. He never fails to make his students smile. He is paving the way for students to enter into the entertainment industry. Paul Graham is the reason that I feel motivated to attend class, even at 8:30 a.m.," said one student who sent in a nomination.

Graham teaches classes focused on entertainment management with an emphasis on the music industry, including artist representation and management and tour management.

Graham is a USC alumnus and built a successful career as tour manager for Hootie and the Blowfish, then as the tournament director for the band's Monday after the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am Golf Tournament, one of the most popular charity events in the country. He then took a fledgling golf representation business and turned it into a meaningful part of Empire Sports Management, where he serves as VP of talent and events. He joined the sport and entertainment management faculty in 2018.

The other finalists for the award were School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Instructor Kevin Ayres and Department of Retailing Instructor Daniel Williams.

Cheng (Grace) Yan
Patricia G. Moody Researcher of the Year

  • David Cardenas, Cheng (Grace) Yan and Mike Watson pose together for a photo

Congratulations to Department of Sport and Entertainment Management Assistant Professor Cheng (Grace) Yan, the 2023 recipient of the Patricia G. Moody Researcher of the Year award.

The award is the most prestigious recognition of scholarly achievement given by the college. Any full-time faculty member of the college with evidence of quality research within the previous four years may be nominated by their peers. A peer review committee reviews each nomination across criteria including the research impact and importance, creativity, authorship, grant funding, and journal rankings for published work.

Over the last four years, Yan has authored 12 publications, including six in A+-rated journals (plus one with an IF equivalent to A+ journal) and two others in A-rated journals.

She was named a research fellow by the North American Society for Sport Management, widely regarded as the field's most prominent academic association.

She and her research partner won an ASPIRE grant for $13,000 from the University of South Carolina Office of the Vice President for Research to study the effect of large-scale sporting events on local area air pollution.

Yan has delivered presentations at numerous conferences, with recent examples including the 2022 European Association of Sport Management Annual Conference in Innsbruck, Austria and the 2022 North American Society for Sport Management Conference in Atlanta.

Previous honors include the Distinguished Conference Paper award at the Sixth Summit on Communication and Sport, the Christine Howe Graduate Student Award from the University of Illinois and the Best Conference Research Paper award at the Travel and Tourism Research Association Annual Conference.

Yan's research interests include inter-related connections of sport and media, evolving identities of sport practices, production and interpretations of media at mega sporting events and emerging dynamics on the digital realm of sport media: economics of attention.

Department of Retailing Associate Professor Jung-Hwan Kim was a runner-up for this year's award.

Kevin Ayres
Brian J. and Linda L. Mihalik Global Scholar

  • David Cardenas, Kevin Ayres and Sam Todd pose together for a photo

Congratulations to School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Instructor Kevin Ayres, the recipient of the 2023 Brian J. and Linda L. Mihalik Global Scholar award.

The award was endowed by the Mihaliks to support teachers who work hard to create pathways to global knowledge and scholarship through study abroad and international collaboration. The endowment provides funding support to one HRSM faculty member each year who best demonstrates a commitment to and advancement of the globalization of the college's students, faculty, curricula, research capabilities and image.

Ayres led a study abroad trip to Iceland in 2022 and will be teaching a sustainable tourism class in the Galapagos Islands this year. He has taught at USC for 24 years and has been nominated for HRSM’s teacher of the year award numerous times. In addition to his international courses, Ayres teaches hospitality finance, hospitality strategy, food service management and hotel management.

Ayres started his career with Marriott in the foodservice division and ran airport operations in Las Vegas and Cleveland before coming to the education division at the University of South Carolina. At South Carolina, Ayres spent six years overseeing the operation of Williams-Brice stadium as well as the Carolina Coliseum. During the summer months he was responsible for the concession and catering operation at Capital City Stadium for the Capital City Bombers. Ayres was a member of the conversion team at Augusta National Golf Club for The Masters helping with the transition from an outside vendor to an in-house concession operation.

Walter Jackson
Staff Member of the Year

  • David Cardenas, Walter Jackson and Pam Osman pose for a photo together

Congratulations to McCutchen House Production Chef Walter Jackson, the 2023 College of HRSM Staff Member of the Year. McCutchen House is a hospitality management experiential learning facility and on-campus restaurant that serves thousands of guests each year. Jackson plays a critical role in both the restaurant operations and the educational outcomes of the facility.

Jackson has more than 28 years of experience in the hotel and restaurant industry. He is a Certified ServSafe instructor/proctor and has been named a Foodservice Management Professional, the highest certification given by the National Restaurant Association.

His role at USC includes teaching the management side of quantity food production for hospitality management students, working with students on food preparation, kitchen safety and basic culinary knowledge. He is also responsible for assisting with college events at McCutchen House and elsewhere.

"The thing about him is that he is very good at his job, he is an excellent chef. Although he is unseen by most, his work is enjoyed by many on a weekly basis. He is hardworking, funny, and a talented artist who goes above and beyond in all that he does," said one of several colleagues who nominated Jackson for the award.

Damla Sonmez
Distinguished Ph.D. Student Teacher of the Year

  • Headshot of Damla Sonmez

Hospitality Management Ph.D. student Damla Sonmez is from Antalya, Turkey, where she earned her B.S. in business administration from Antalya Bilim University. Sonmez earned her M.S. in hospitality management from the University of Florida. Her research interests are in the areas of consumer behavior, leadership in hospitality and organizational behavior.

As part of her Ph.D. program she currently teaches classes on hospitality management at USC and was nominated by her students for the teacher of the year award.

Jiayao Chee Qi* and Omid Oshriyeh
Outstanding Doctoral Student Researchers of the Year

  • David Cardenas, Omid Oshriyeh and Mike Watson pose for a photo together

The Researcher of the Year award committee selected two recipients for this year's doctoral researcher award because both winners were highly deserving as evidenced in their work.

Sport and Entertainment Management Ph.D. student Jiayao Chee Qi earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Finance from Northern Arizona University and his Master of Science in Education - Sport Management from Baylor University. His research explores the way job seekers in the sport industry are driven by passion, identities, attachments, pride, and emotion, and these questions are central to the work that hundreds of hiring managers in the sport industry do each day. Qi has recently developed a partnership with a biometric research lab director in the College of Information and Communication and has started to explore these topics with the aid of eye-tracking devices, facial expressions, electroencephalography (EEG), and galvanic skin responses (GSR). He has presented his research at top conferences including the North American Society of Sport Management (NASSM), the European Association of Sport Management (EASM) and Sport, Entertainment and Venues Tomorrow (SEVT). His work has been published in the Journal of Applied Sport Management and he is very active and engaged in the research enterprise.

Hospitality Management Ph.D. student Omid Oshriyeh earned his B.S. in tourism management and M.S. in tourism management (tourism marketing) from the University of Tehran. His research interests include film-induced tourism, consumer behavior, and risk and crisis management in the tourism industry. While pursuing his doctoral degree at USC he has served as an editorial associate for Tourism Analysis: An Interdisciplinary Journal and as a reviewer for the Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Research. He is also a teaching and research assistant to Dr. Ercan Sirakaya-Turk. Since joining USC in 2022 he has published a peer-reviewed paper, a book chapter, a book review, and presented a conference paper. He currently has four works in progress, three of which are under review at top-tier peer-reviewed journals.

* Not pictured

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