Mention the University of Mississippi’s hospitality program to Scott and Joey Vasilyev and their faces visibly brighten.
The Oxford, Mississippi, brothers volley names of their favorite professors as if in a match to determine who had the best experience at Ole Miss.
“The reason we light up so much is because the faculty was personally engaged with us. It was just a feeling of family almost,” said Scott Vasilyev, a 2001 graduate of the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management (NHM) within the School of Applied Sciences. “That’s what we continue to like about the program the most. That relationship persists even to this day.”
Hoping to help future students develop similarly fond memories by finding great value in their education, the brothers and their sister, Renee Sholtis of Fairhope, Alabama, established the Vasilyev Hospitality Management Fund with a major gift.
“Many of the professors we had were instrumental in shaping the people we ultimately became,” Scott Vasilyev said. “Out of respect for them and a love, if you will, we wanted our gift to show our thanks for what they brought to the entire program.”
The gift will provide general support to NHM at the dean’s discretion.
“Scott and I are very passionate about keeping our gift undesignated. If the department needs a new program, additional employees or an enhanced space, then they have the leeway to use these resources for those purposes,” said Joey Vasilyev, a 2003 graduate of the program who, with his brother, owns and operates eight Taco Bell franchises across Mississippi.
In addition to their hospitality business, all three siblings own and operate a commercial real estate holding company with a dozen Mississippi-based properties. The success of these two companies enables the family to give back to their home state’s flagship university.
“I know our gift will be used to enhance the current program and make it more attractive to students who may not have a strong idea of what they want to do,” Joey Vasilyev said.
“When we were at Ole Miss in the hospitality program, it was heavily focused on food service. But the hospitality industry has really morphed to include so much more,” he continued, adding that today’s graduates can use their degrees to pursue careers in hotel or resort management, sports entertainment and guest services, as examples.
The siblings, ever mindful of the need for philanthropy, are the third generation of their family to offer financial support to the university. Their grandparents, the late J.C. and Nina Goolsby, and their parents, Bob and Rita Vasilyev, have provided significant gifts to the university academically and athletically.
In 2012, the Vasilyev siblings, along with their parents, created the first endowed scholarship for NHM: the Vasilyev Family Scholarship Endowment. Today there are six endowed scholarships available to NHM students, two of which can be awarded to more than one student. NHM also offers a scholarship to help with student travel.
Though the amount of their recent gift remains undisclosed, the School of Applied Sciences intends to honor the Vasilyevs by designating a space with the family’s surname.
“The Vasilyev family has been a steadfast partner in the growth and development of our hospitality program,” said Peter Grandjean, dean of Applied Sciences and professor of exercise science. “Their gifts of time, expertise and financial support have inspired and equipped our students for leadership and service in the hospitality industry.
“We are deeply grateful for their generosity and look forward to the academic experiences and community engagements that are certain to result from their thoughtfulness.”
Joey Vasilyev said he hopes his family’s gift will build awareness for the NHM program, encouraging other graduates to give back.
“There’s a need for it,” he said. “That’s not to diminish any other department that receives a lot of support. Hospitality management? Not so much. It really does not have a long track record of individuals giving back in terms of philanthropic gifts, so that’s why we chose to double down on our investment.
“We’re hoping this gift will ignite other individuals who have ties to the program to give back to it because it’s a good thing.”
Like her siblings, Sholtis has a strong desire to give back to her alma mater and hopes the scholarship will help recruit more students who will learn to love Ole Miss and Oxford as she does.
“The great education that Scott and Joey received at Ole Miss played a big part in continuing the success our family has enjoyed in the restaurant industry,” said Sholtis, who graduated from Ole Miss in 1997 with degrees in English and journalism. “I want students at the university to recognize the wonderful opportunities an education in the Nutrition and Hospitality Management Department will afford them.
“Additionally, a great education requires excellent professors and first-rate facilities. This gift will help the university ensure that it continues to provide both to its students.”
Individuals and organizations interested in contributing to the Vasilyev Hospitality Management Fund can send checks to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655 with the fund noted in the memo line, or give online at https://give.olemiss.edu.
For more information, contact Susan Boyette, executive director of development for the School of Applied Sciences, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-6625.
By Bill Dabney