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When Mariele Soriano was a teenager, she moved from the Philippines to Hawaii. To ease the transition, she volunteered at the long-term care facility where her mom worked as a nurse. “Being around the seniors reminded me of my grandparents who were still in the Philippines. I was missing them. So, it helped me as well,” Soriano says.

That volunteer work would turn out to be the start of a lifelong career in senior care. Soriano would rise from volunteer to dietary server to nursing home administrator. In 2019, she became executive director of a care community in Santa Rosa, CA.

Soriano couldn’t be in a better position. As the baby boom generation reaches retirement age, the senior living industry is growing rapidly. By 2025, the industry will need 1.2 million new employees to support this growing segment of the U.S. population.

At the same time, baby boomers aren’t content with the status quo in their senior living environments. Soriano says, “It’s not just about taking care of the residents anymore. It’s about providing an environment filled with the amenities they expect.”

Leaders like Soriano know that hospitality is the future of senior living. Wanting to be at the forefront of this trend, she enrolled in the renowned USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Training leaders in senior living hospitality

Soriano is working toward a Master of Arts in Senior Living Hospitality. The program is designed for current professionals working in the senior living field and those just beginning their career. It combines an understanding of aging and the needs of older adults with special training in senior living management and hospitality.

For Soriano, the program is enhancing her knowledge and positioning her to be a more effective leader. Soriano points to a marketing course taught by professors Jim Biggs and Joshua Johnson, both experts in senior living. “I learned about enhancing websites using keywords for search engine optimization (SEO). This is important so people can find us when they search on Google.”

In addition to marketing and branding, leaders in senior care need to be fluent in many other areas. The MA in Senior Living Hospitality program is comprehensive and covers:

  • Legal and regulatory issues
  • Health care and nutrition
  • Revenue management and finance

Despite her years of experience, Soriano is learning something new every day she’s in class.

A master’s degree plus a Certificate in Hospitality from Cornell University

This one-of-a kind program allows students to also earn a Certificate in Hospitality from Cornell University’s Nolan School of Hotel Administration. Through Cornell’s executive education unit, eCornell, she takes short, two-week classes in hotel and restaurant management.

Soriano sees many parallels between her care community and a hotel. She says, “Our front desk is like a concierge. They help residents get whatever they need. We also have a driver to take residents where they need to go, just like a hotel.”

Based on a recent eCornell class called “Optimizing Restaurant Space and Pricing,” Soriano is re-evaluating her dining room. She’s looking at ways to optimize the seating arrangements and dining options to save money.

Saving money isn’t the only thing on Soriano’s mind. Her top priority is the residents. Since becoming Executive Director, Soriano implemented an open dining room so residents can eat breakfast whenever they wake up. “We used to tell them they had to get up early so they could eat breakfast,” Soriano says. “Now they can have breakfast at 10 a.m. if they want. It’s all about providing person-centered care.”

The future of senior living

Looking to the future, Soriano is focused on meeting the needs of the baby boomers. Her facility will soon include a bistro and wellness center. She has other ideas as well, like technology upgrades.

One of the biggest challenges Soriano will face is implementing all the changes she wants to make. After all, change management is hard. But Soriano is engaged with her employees and has a mindset that keeps her pushing through any obstacles she encounters.

She also has the vast resources of USC Leonard Davis School to help her. The MA in Senior Living Hospitality includes courses in leadership and change management. Soriano’s classmates and professors also provide a community she can reach out to for help and support.

What’s most important is that, after 20 years in senior care, Soriano still loves her work. She wants to make the residents feel special. She says, “This is their home and we’re the guests. We’re here to help them get where they want to be, not the other way around anymore.”

To learn more about the Master of Arts in Senior Living Hospitality degree program at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, call us at (213) 740-5156.

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