KSU's school of culinary sustainability to be named for chief of Georgia Aquarium

By David Pendered

The burgeoning degree program of culinary sustainability at Kennesaw State University will be housed in a school named for Michael Leven, the president/CEO of the Georgia Aquarium who made a $5 million commitment to the program, the state Board of Regents decided Wednesday.

Michael Leven

Michael Leven

“It is an honor for me to associate my name with Kennesaw State,” Leven said in a statement released by KSU.

Regents agreed to name the school the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality. The school is Georgia’s effort to establish its place in leadership training for the nation’s $600-plus billion marketplace of restaurants.

“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 said in the statement.

In addition to providing for the school’s name, the commitment is to support an endowed faculty chair as well as scholarships for culinary sustainability and hospitality students, according to the statement. The contribution is the largest KSU has ever received from an individual since the school was founded 52 years ago.

“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,” Daniel S. Papp, KSU’s president, said in the statement. “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.”

Students at Kennesaw State University work on crops at the school's sustainable farm, which provides foods consumed on campus and helped KSU win two awards for its sustainable cuisine. File/Credit: KSU

Students at Kennesaw State University work on crops at the school’s sustainable farm, which provides foods consumed on campus and helped KSU win two awards for its sustainable cuisine. File/Credit: KSU

KSU began its culinary sustainability program in 2013, with a curriculum devised by Christian Hardigree.

When the Board of Regents approved the program, the notion was to support the University System of Georgia’s drive to develop forward-looking programs in order to compete for the nation’s top students, and to maintain enrollment.

The program is forecast to draw an increasing proportion of out-of-state students, who pay higher rates than in-state students. Out-of-state enrollment is projected to rise from 4 percent in 2013, to 8 percent by 2017, to 15 percent by 2018, according to the curriculum proposal.

The goal of culinary sustainability is to improve the bottom line of the food service industry, in addition to nutritional analysis, resource management and business skills.

In a story published in SaportaReport.com in 2013, Hardigree provided the following example of culinary sustainability:

  • Legendary restaurateur George McKerrow Jr. saved a bundle just by changing the type of light bulbs in 56 of the Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants he established with Ted Turner. Previously, McKerrow founded the LongHorn Steakhouse chain of restaurants.
  • McKerrow invested $111,000 in replacing light bulbs in 56 of the Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants, and he reaped a $250,000 return through energy savings during the first year, Hardigree said. In addition, because McKerrow negotiated a two-year guarantee on bulbs, the company had netted a total of $389,000 in savings before he stopped tracking the savings that resulted from the bulk of bulbs.
  • “It was hard for him to convince people to invest $111,000,” Hardigree said. “He improved profitability just through changing the type of lighting.”

Hardigree had this to say of Leven’s commitment and recognition by the school naming:

  • “Michael Leven is a titan of our industry. 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.”

According to the KSU statement, Leven has worked 45 years in the hospitality industry. He’s served as president of Las Vegas Sands Corp., Holiday Inn Worldwide, and Days Inn Corp. He founded U.S. Franchise Systems, Inc., which franchises the Microtel Inn & Suites and Hawthorn Suites flags, and served as CEO/president from 1995 to 2007.

Leven was named CEO/president of the Georgia Aquarium in January. Leven had spent the previous six years helping to rescue the Sands from financial woes and had decided to devote himself to philanthropic causes, according to a report in jta.org.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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