Kennesaw State names hospitality school after Leven

Kennesaw State University will rename its School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality in…

Georgia (Apr 21, 2015)Kennesaw State University will rename its School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality in honor of industry veteran Michael Leven, current chairman and CEO of the Georgia Aquarium.


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The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents approved the renaming on April 15.

Leven gifted the university $5 million, the largest single contribution from an individual in KSU’s 52-year history.

The money will support the operations of the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality, as well as fund an endowed faculty chair and scholarships for students.

A naming ceremony is planned for mid-May.

“It’s a huge honor for KSU that Mr. Leven is working with the program,” Daniel Papp, president of KSU, told Atlanta Business Chronicle in an April 15 interview. “He’s truly one of the titans in the hospitality industry.”

In his more than 50-year career, Leven served as president for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., Holiday Inn Worldwide and Days Inn Corp.

In 1995, he founded U.S. Franchise Systems Inc., which franchises the Microtel Inn & Suites and Hawthorn Suites hotel brands, and served as its CEO and president until 2007.

He also co-founded the Atlanta-based Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), which has 14,000 members who own more than 20,000 hotels.

Over the years, Leven has served on the boards of many groups, including former roles as chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Government Affairs Committee and vice-chairman of the Marcus Foundation.

“I’ve always been a proponent of proper education for the industry,” Leven said April 15, adding he plans to be active in recruiting speakers for the school and hopes to help students face the reality of entering the workforce. “It could become one of the leading institutions in the Southeast. I think I can open a lot of doors based on my experience in the industry.”

KSU began the bachelor’s degree program in culinary sustainability and hospitality in fall 2013. The curriculum includes courses on sustainability, food science, nutritional analysis, resource conservation and essential business skills.

Today, nearly 200 students are pursuing the major. But, more than 1,000 students take the classes, Papp said.

“We are very pleased with the growth,” he said. “Obviously, with Atlanta and the state of Georgia being national centers for hospitality, restaurants and culinary programs, it made a lot of sense to put a program at Kennesaw.”

In fact, Georgia’s $17 billion restaurant industry is one of the fastest-growing in the nation. Over the next decade, from 2015 to 2025, the state is forecast to grow its restaurant and foodservice jobs 21.1 percent. That places Georgia fourth in the country for projected job growth, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In KSU’s program, students collaborate with the university’s culinary services, which oversees dining facility The Commons and eight retail establishments. Students also have access to 40 acres of farmland, 42 honeybee hives, and a 2,500-square-foot herb garden.

“We try to provide them an understanding of the complete range of required culinary expertise from farm to table,” Papp said. “It’s a comprehensive program.”


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit