Major: Hospitality Management
Shannon Kanak grew up working in restaurants and knew she wanted to be part of the hospitality industry.
“The amazing thing about the hospitality industry is how many different areas it has, so there is something for everyone who is interested,” she said. “At first, I just didn’t know what area I wanted to be in.”
Kanak enrolled at College of DuPage because she knew it was a great starting point for people who weren’t sure what to pursue. It was also an affordable option when compared with attending a four-year university, especially since she was still determining her exact career path.
While she started off in the Culinary Arts program, intent on becoming a chef, she quickly realized after two classes that this wasn’t her calling. But working in live events was, and she switched to the Hospitality Management program.
“The Hospitality program at COD is so great because there are so many different classes you can take to learn about different areas, which is how I learned more about working in live events,” she said. “It was in my first year at COD that I was accepted into the Disney College Program, which truly opened my eyes to the possibilities in the industry.
“During my time at COD, I met amazing people who were my colleagues as well as staff members. Some of those people I consider to be very close friends and mentors as the years have gone by.”
Going to College of DuPage absolutely shaped me into the person I am today.
After earning her Associate in Applied Science in Hospitality Management, Kanak continued to earn her bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University through the 3+1 program, in which students take three years of classes at COD and one year from Roosevelt on COD’s campus.
“The 3+1 program with Roosevelt University was truly a game changer for me as well as my colleagues. To be able to experience the Roosevelt Hospitality program in ‘our own backyard’ at COD was so great,” she said. “I was lucky enough to take a few classes at the downtown campus, which was always a fun part of the week.”
After completing the 3+1 program, Kanak’s first job was working for a wedding photography and planning studio in downtown Chicago, where she learned about time management and the importance of details. She then spent several months traveling through Europe.
“If you have the opportunity, I strongly encourage traveling to new places that are outside of your comfort zone,” she said. “I’ve found it’s the best way to not only learn about other people and cultures, but yourself as well.”
Kanak currently works with Delta Dental Plans Association, which is part of the national Delta Dental Insurance system. Her company plans meetings and events across the country for group sizes ranging from 10 to 350. She started as a coordinator for the Meetings and Events team and supported the team with its projects and tasks.
“I worked for two amazing women, and it was a great crash course into the meetings world,” she said. “Over the years, my responsibilities have changed from supporting my teammates on meetings to actually leading my own meetings and events. Before the pandemic, I was traveling every six to eight weeks depending on the upcoming schedule for our events. As things slowly get back to normal, we are excited to travel again for in-person, on-site meetings.”
In 2021, Kanak reached one of her career goals when she completed the Certified Meeting Planner certificate with the Events industry Council. She looks forward to learning more about running larger meetings and events and eventually would like to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality, as much has changed and continues to change within the Hospitality industry.
As for COD, Kanak strongly encourage students to try out a few different classes that interest them.
“Look at me—I was so set on being the next top chef and after two classes, I realized that it wasn’t for me,” she said. “It’s all about trial and error, finding what you enjoy and could see yourself doing as a career versus doing something you enjoy as a hobby.
“I am proud to say I am a College of DuPage alumna. I think College of DuPage is the perfect fit for anyone who is unsure of what they want to do, or if they know exactly what they want to do but need to save money before going to a four-year university. There seems to be so much pressure these days, or at least when I was graduating from high school, in that you had to go to a four-year university to be accepted in today’s society. To be honest, we need to work on changing that stigma. There should be no shame in attending a community college. Going to College of DuPage absolutely shaped me into the person I am today.”