Faculty Bio

Melissa A. Varao, Ph.D
Associate Dean, School of Business; Associate Professor Hospitality and Event Management

Office: DeArment House

Tel: 617-243-2499

Email: MVarao@lasell.edu

Department: Marketing and Management


  • Ph.D. Hotel and Restaurant Management, Auburn University, 2009
  • M.S. Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, University of South Carolina, 2004
  • B.S. Recreation and Sport Management – Emphasis in Travel and Tourism Management, Indiana State University, 2002

Professor Melissa A. Varao is the Associate Dean of the School of Business. During her time at Lasell, Professor Varao has helped develop three new hospitality majors, a minor, and a Master’s degree concentration. In addition, she has created many strong industry partnerships in the Boston area for the benefit of the Hospitality and Event Management Program and its students. Professor Varao has also developed several new courses including HEM 214 Ecotourism, which includes a week-long service learning expedition for students to such locations as Belize and the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. She also held the position of Faculty Connected Learning Organizer for four years in which time she assisted faculty in course and project development related to Lasell’s Connected Learning philosophy and coordinated and executed the bi-annual Connected Learning Symposia.

Dr. Varao is a member of several organizations, including the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Education (ICHRIE), the International Special Events Society (ISES), and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). She currently serves as the Marketing Director for the Northeast North America (NENA) Chapter of ICHRIE. Professor Varao has co-authored several publications, including A Comparison Study of U.S. and Non-U.S. Education Internationalization Practices of Hospitality and Tourism Programs in the Journal of Teaching in Travel & Tourism (2011), Defining Visitor Satisfaction in the Context of Camping Oriented Nature-Based Tourism – the Driving Force of Quality! In the Journal of Vacation Marketing, (2010), and Attachment Style and Emotional Intelligence and its Relationship to Leadership Success in the Twelfth Annual Graduate Education and Graduate Student Research in Hospitality and Tourism Conference Proceedings (2007). Varao regularly guest lectures for Hospitality programs both locally and abroad.

Professor Varao has traveled to Belize, Brazil, and Nicaragua with Lasell students as part of various ecotourism and international service learning trips; she has also studied and directed programs abroad in Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Great Britain, Costa Rica and more. Professor Varao is also know to lead domestic educational trips including Napa and Sonoma Valleys to study wine tourism and New York City to introduce students to the International Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant Show.

Prior to earning her Ph.D., Professor Varao worked in both the lodging and event management sectors of the hospitality industry. She has extensive experience in hotel front office operations and in planning weddings and special events for both luxury resorts and as a small business owner.

While completing her education, Dr. Varao was competitively selected as a 2008-2009 Future Faculty Fellow at Auburn University based on her demonstrated academic excellence and interest in academic careers and was the recipient of many additional honors and awards, including the 2008 Jeanne M. Preister Fellowship at the Auburn University College of Human Sciences and the 2005 Graduate Student of the Year for the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Department at the University of South Carolina.

What is important for your students to take away from your classes?

"It’s important for me to know that my students are not only getting a well-laid educational foundation in liberal arts, business, and hospitality, but are also gaining knowledge from experience working in their particular fields of the hospitality industry. Clearly students need to understand the terms and practices in any field, but I find that most people can’t fully appreciate and understand this information until they have actually used it in real-life situations. I try to incorporate working experiences into every course that I teach. For example, it would be nearly impossible to teach a student about the event planning industry without having them plan actual events. Generally these experiences also involve meeting and working with other professionals in the industry, allowing students to have made several strong industry connections by the time they graduate."