Iowa State alumnus Ken Tsai brings a love of tourism, technology, and diversity to his new position as an assistant professor in event management. Photo by Ryan Riley.

New event management professor embraces tourism, technology, diversity

Ken Tsai’s activities and involvement as an undergraduate student at Iowa State University ultimately led to him becoming a faculty member here.

Tsai, a new assistant professor in event management, recently joined the Iowa State faculty. He received his bachelor’s degree in international business and marketing from Iowa State in 2003.

During his previous time on campus, he was greatly impacted by all of his student activities. He served as president of the International Student Council, public relations director of the Student Union Board Executive Board, special events coordinator at the International Students and Scholars Office, and chair of international events at Veishea.

“Iowa State basically spurred my leadership and enthusiasm in event management,” he said. “This was one of the first bachelor of science degrees in event management in the nation. So I definitely want to be a part of it. Plus, this is my alma mater. Go Cyclones!”

Tsai joins a rapidly growing career field at Iowa State, home of the only four-year event management major in the state. Graduates of the program are especially trained to know the operational and ethical challenges of executing an event in the 21st century — from risk management to proper stage setup. The program, which began in 2011, has 426 graduates and currently enrolls 369 students majoring in event management and 72 who list event management as their minor.

Developing, marketing, and sustaining small towns

Tsai’s research focuses on how to develop, market, and sustain tourism in small cities and towns. Tourism has been recognized as a rapidly growing segment of the local economy and society in many small cities and towns. Several of Tsai’s research topics include behavioral studies of tourists and event entrepreneurship.

He became a Certified Tourism Ambassador in Fort Collins, Colorado, in December 2016. The certification serves to increase tourism by giving front-line employees and volunteers in-depth knowledge and a nationally industry-recognized credential about that city as a tourist destination. He now plans to collaborate with the Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau to bring the program to Ames.

Tsai’s experiences over the years range from planning a six-day event to celebrate the Lunar New Year, to organizing the first-ever International Police Fighting Competition in Dallas, Texas, where police officers from 10 countries competed in martial arts, similar to ultimate fighting.

“It certainly isn’t always as glamorous behind the scenes as many people imagine,” he said. “As a professional event coordinator, you must understand the integrated processes, plans, and possibilities specific to each event you are planning so that you will be a better planner, producer, purchaser, and partner in delivering the special event experience that exceeds expectations. Creating and producing events is an exhilarating and sometimes exhausting occupation. But it is always rewarding emotionally, spiritually, and often economically.”

Embracing technology in the classroom and field

Tsai uses a wide range of technology as teaching tools.

“Classroom technology presents unique opportunities to help my students achieve success,” he said. “I welcome technology in my classroom and have used a wide range of cloud-based simulation software as teaching tools in and out of classrooms to help facilitate my instructional methods and student learning goals.”

Before coming to Iowa State, Tsai served as a mentor for a virtual reality competition called Hackathon at Colorado State University where he led groups of students in brainstorming, feedback, evaluation, and recommendations.

Last fall, Tsai worked with fellow event management faculty and students at Iowa State to create a new event management lab in LeBaron Hall called “The Meeting Room: Where Experiences and Technology Innovate.” The lab provides a space for students and faculty to participate in web conferencing, online instruction, computer-based instruction, and virtual reality. They can also access an event lighting and audio system.

Tsai also began teaching a new course at Iowa State, EVENT 277X, Introduction to Digital Promotion in Event Management. The course provides fundamental understandings of event management digital channels and social media platforms. Tsai engages students to utilize various design tools, such as Canva and Adobe Spark, to create event collateral materials, which are part of an integrated marketing strategy. These materials could include save-the-date postcards, invitations, brochures, programs, signage, city guides, evaluations, specialty items, and promotional gifts and bags.

“Dr. Tsai brings a wealth of experience in the areas of event digital marketing and sustainable tourism to our growing event management program,” said Eric Olson, an assistant professor who led Tsai’s search committee. “He effectively utilizes instructional technology in teaching, has numerous certifications to support student learning, and is an active participant in our industry’s associations.”

A focus on diversity

Tsai always loved to travel and learn about different cultures. He first left his home in Taiwan to study abroad in Cambridge, England, and Sydney, Australia. He came to America as a high school exchange student in Rockton, Illinois. He’s frequently made presentations about Chinese culture in elementary schools.

“I love anything with culture,” he said. “Cultural awareness and promoting diversity are a focus of my teaching. In the event industry, global awareness, diversity, and cultural competency skills must be addressed. I have always embraced students with different cultural support activities to help them increase cultural awareness and skill.”

Before joining the Iowa State faculty, Tsai served as an assistant professor in tourism management at Colorado State University, and as an assistant professor of hospitality and tourism administration at Wiley College, a historically black college and university in Marshall, Texas.

“This gave me a really complete training in teaching to students with different backgrounds,” he said.