Kennesaw State receives $5 million to name Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality program


Atlanta CEO Michael Leven makes largest single gift commitment in University’s history …

Georgia (Apr 15, 2015)Atlanta CEO Michael Leven makes largest single gift commitment in University’s history 

Click here for a downloadable photo of Michael Leven

KENNESAW, Ga.  (April 15, 2015) — The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents today approved the naming of the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality at Kennesaw State University.

Michael Leven, a veteran hospitality industry executive and CEO of the Georgia Aquarium, made a commitment of $5 million to name Kennesaw State University’s School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality. The gift represents the largest single contribution from an individual in the University’s 52-year history.

In addition to naming the School, Leven’s philanthropic gift will be used to support an endowed faculty chair as well as scholarships for culinary sustainability and hospitality students.  University officials are planning a mid-May naming ceremony to recognize Leven and his generosity to the program.

“We are deeply appreciative and honored to receive this substantial gift from Mr. Leven, whose generosity extends well beyond his financial investment in the future of this program,” said Daniel S. Papp, president of Kennesaw State University. “We look forward to his involvement and the many benefits his industry expertise and professional connections will bring to the Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality.”

The bachelor’s degree program began at Kennesaw State in fall 2013. The innovative academic program offers a unique approach to the study of culinary and hospitality management, infusing the curriculum with knowledge in sustainability while emphasizing food science, nutritional analysis, resource conservation, and essential business skills.

“Michael Leven is a titan of our industry,” said Christian Hardigree, director of the Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality at Kennesaw State. “His commitment will provide our students with a distinct competitive advantage by ensuring that they receive the highest quality education and an exceptional learning experience.”

Leven has spent his entire 54-year career working in the hospitality industry, serving as president for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Holiday Inn Worldwide and Days Inn Corporation. 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 Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), which has 14,000 members who own more than 20,000 hotels.

“It is an honor for me to associate my name with Kennesaw State,” said Leven. “It is my hope that I can add value to an emerging culinary and hospitality program that will educate those individuals who seek to enter an industry that I love and that has provided me a lifetime of joy.”

Leven was named chairman and chief executive officer of the Georgia Aquarium in January 2015. He previously served as CEO of the aquarium from 2008 to 2009. Leven earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University and a Master of Science from Boston University. He also holds honorary doctorates from Johnson & Wales University and Niagara University’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

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Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering more than 100 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees. A member of the University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive university with more than 32,000 students from 130 countries. In January 2015, Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State University consolidated to create one of the 50 largest public universities in the country. 


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