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Hilton College Student Wins Prestigious Spa Scholarship 9/14/2010

ISPA Foundation's Mary Tabacchi Scholarship Awarded to Junior Kate Sornson

Kate Sornson found her calling while working as a receptionist at a spa. Now Sornson, a junior at the University of Houston's Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, has won a prestigious, national scholarship to help her pursue her dream career in spa management.

Sornson is the first Hilton College student to ever win the International SPA Association Foundation's Mary Tabacchi Scholarship, awarded to one student annually who is pursuing a spa-related degree. Created in 2006, the $2,500 scholarship is named for Mary Tabacchi, an associate professor for hospitality facilities and operations at Cornell University and a spa-industry pioneer. Sornson will receive the scholarship at the 2010 ISPA Conference & Expo in November in Washington, D.C.

Sornson said she was thrilled to receive the recognition. "It helped me believe in myself," she said. "Knowing that others believe in my abilities makes it easier to follow my dreams and exceed my own expectations."

Spa management first sparked Sornson's interest while she was a student at Texas A&M University. She took a job as receptionist at a spa, worked her way up to office manager, and found she enjoyed working with the spa's clientele.

"I really like helping people to help themselves, showing them how they can feel better," she said. "Spa management is really about wellness. I have a real passion for it."

She enjoyed it so much she decided to transfer to Hilton College and pursue a hotel and restaurant management degree with an area of emphasis in spa management. She thanks her mentor, Carl A. Boger Jr., associate dean of academic programs and the Clinton L. Rappole Endowed Chair at Hilton College, for starting the College's spa-management program and helping her discover her career goals.

The first spa management class at Hilton College was offered in spring 2008 to address the growing need for a formal education in this booming sector of hospitality. The College also is reaching out to the industry, forming the Houston Spa Association and creating continuing-education courses for spa professionals.

Sornson wants to eventually open a destination spa that also serves as an addiction-treatment center. "It would be a holistic center open to both addicts and non-addicts, hopefully opening the door to greater understanding and acceptance," she said. "When I can make someone else's day, it makes my day."

Debbie Maurer