Faculty Spotlight: Joey Gray, Leisure, Sport, and ...

Faculty Spotlight: Joey Gray, Leisure, Sport, and Tourism Studies

Dr. Joey Gray of the Leisure, Sport and Tourism department addresses guests at the introduction event for the new Tourism and Hospitality degree program at the OMNI Hotel in downtown Nashville. Photo by Andy Heidt.

Interested in a new major built around fun that is feeding into a hungry job market? The Student Voice recently sat down with Dr. Joey Gray and discussed her background, school success tips, and some details on the new Tourism and Hospitality degree available at MTSU!

Thanks for agreeing to talk with the Student Voice! To start off, when did you come to MTSU and why did you choose to teach here?

I came to MTSU in 2006. I actually had seven job interviews, but I loved that MTSU was a teaching school. Research is important, of course, but I loved how they valued teaching compared to some of the other schools. I really love the students here, I really love the faculty, and I really love the location. It was the complete package I was looking for, and I’ve stayed here for a long time despite receiving offers from elsewhere.

Tell us a little about your academic background and how you ended up in the Leisure, Sport, and Tourism Studies department.

I started out as a double major in business and equine studies, but I decided that it wasn’t for me. I ended up switching to sport, which was something I knew a little bit more about. I got my undergraduate degree in Sport Management from Averett University in Virginia before going to North Carolina State for my master’s in recreation and sports management. From there, I went to teach at East Carolina University as a visiting lecturer. I originally planned on coaching volleyball and softball, but some interesting life events happened and I ended up teaching after applying on a whim and fell in love with it.

I realized I could get everything out of teaching that I loved about coaching — being able to mentor and connect with younger people.

I was encouraged to get my Ph.D. while I was there, so I went to Indiana University on a special appointment where I taught and went to school full-time. I didn’t really sleep a lot! When I came out of school, though, I was incredibly marketable because I taught like 12 different classes by the time I graduated. I also met Dr. Steven Estes at East Carolina, who is now the graduate program manager for Leisure and Sport Management here, and I’ve known him for about 20 years now!

I’ve heard that there’s a new degree on the block that you’re involved with. Give me the details!

Yeah! It’s Tourism and Hospitality Management. Tourism is a really fast-moving industry with a lot of students interested in it. We’ve broken it down into three specializations: tourism and travel, hotel and hospitality, and event planning, which I teach. It’s just taken off. The industry leaders in Nashville came and told us that they don’t have enough qualified people to fill jobs. There are close to four million jobs worldwide, and the industry is growing by 5% every year.

We rolled it out not long ago, and my email is already blowing up with students and industry leaders who are interested in even bigger partnerships with MTSU and our program. I think that Tourism and Hospitality Management has a chance to be MTSU’s next signature program.

What does it take for a student to be successful in this new major?

You have to be a people person. You don’t necessarily need to be an extrovert, but you have to enjoy people. One thing that I want people to understand about our major is the importance of it. People like to chuckle that we have degrees in “leisure,” but I challenge them to take any area of leisure out of their lives. Whether it be sport, tourism, travel, even watching TV. See how happy you are then!

We touch on every area, physical, social, emotional, so we keep people happy and healthy. We work so you can have fun.

Another big thing is that our tagline is “Do what you love.” People who work in our industry and students who study it do what they love every single day.

As for being successful, you have to like people and you have to be a “do-er.” My colleagues may kill me, but I have to say that it’s not rocket science. You just have to be motivated and get things done. We’re considered a “discovery major,” so people will find out about us and transfer here when they want to try something new. Often times, people may not do great where they were, but they come alive in our major because they’re doing what they love.

So, you talked a little bit earlier about wanting to be a coach. Do you think teaching and coaching go hand in hand?

I do! I mean, teachers also coach and coaches also teach. Coaching just didn’t end up being the life I wanted. I get the same thrill I got from coaching as a teacher, with much better hours.

Dr. Joey Gray, far left, talks with students on the field at MTSU's Floyd Stadium during the spring 2015 semester. Gray is an associate professor in MTSU's Sports, Leisure and Tourism Studies Program. Students shown include, from bottom right, Connor Fite, Tara Fleming, JT Farmer, Takyra Wright and Requavius Macon. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Dr. Joey Gray, kneeling, talks with students on the field at MTSU’s Floyd Stadium in this file photo. Gray is an associate professor in MTSU’s Leisure, Sport and Tourism Studies Program. Students shown include, from bottom right, Connor Fite, Tara Fleming, JT Farmer, Takyra Wright and Requavius Macon. (MTSU file photo by J. Intintoli)

What’s your best piece of advice for new students to get the most out of their experience at MTSU?

Do everything. I tell my students this all the time: there’s no other point in your life where you’ll have the opportunity to do as many things as a university setting offers, particularly at MTSU, for such a low cost. For example, you can rent equipment and go on trips with MTOP (Middle Tennessee Outdoor Pursuits) for practically nothing! You can go all around the world on Study Abroad trips with knowledgeable guides … for practically nothing! I think some students just don’t think to take advantage of these things while they’re here. Of course, you should work hard, but don’t be afraid to have fun and build relationships, both personally and professionally.

Author Kobe Hermann is a junior at MTSU, majoring in management in the Jones College of Business and minoring in business administration. The views and opinions expressed above are his own and don’t necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of Middle Tennessee State University.