UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State School of Hospitality Management in the College of Health and Human Development and the Penn State Hotel & Restaurant Society (PSHRS) have named Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, as the 2019 Hospitality Executive of the Year.

The National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the nation’s $800 billion restaurant and foodservice industry.

Sweeney’s leadership and achievements in the foodservice industry will be recognized at a gala reception at the historic Nittany Lion Inn on April 3, 2019.

Sweeney is being recognized for her strategic leadership of the National Restaurant Association, celebrating 100 years of promoting and protecting the industry. There are more than 1 million restaurant locations in the United States, employing more than 15 million people.

Sweeney has led the National Restaurant Association since 2007, addressing a wide range of policy issues, while offering services and products that promote the industry and help individual operators and large multi-unit companies succeed.

Under her leadership, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which offers student scholarships, has heightened its focus on developing a strong workforce and building the next generation of industry leaders. Sweeney is an inspirational role model as a female executive and industry leader, especially relevant to the Penn State School of Hospitality Management where over 60% of its students are women.

“It is an honor to be recognized by the Penn State School of Hospitality Management and PSHRS. Preparing for a career in the hospitality industry requires students to focus on service to others and to their communities. This award provides an opportunity to be part of the school’s great tradition of service and leadership, and I am grateful to my colleagues in the industry who made this possible,” Sweeney said.

The annual Hospitality Executive of the Year event recognizes an individual for exemplary achievement to the industry. It also brings together the Penn State School of Hospitality Management community of students, faculty, alumni, and industry partners at a gathering to enhance the reputation and presence of the school and support its mission of engaged scholarship.

As the second largest private-sector employer in the country, the foodservice and restaurant industry provides pathways for achievement from first job to business ownership. Together with the membership and leadership of the National Restaurant Association, Dawn has brought a renewed sense of pride in the opportunities that the hospitality industry brings to our Penn State students,” said Donna Quadri-Felitti, PhD., Marvin Ashner Director of the School of Hospitality Management. “She has led the National Restaurant Association to its centennial as an unparalleled force of our industry’s positive impact on communities, families, and individuals.”

PSHRS has honored a number of industry leaders through this prestigious award since 1960. Its recipients represent a “Who’s Who” of extraordinary individuals who made indelible marks on the profession.

“PSHRS members are industry innovators and executives in the greater restaurant, food and beverage, and foodservice segments, as well as the broader sector of hospitality. Recognizing Dawn Sweeney and the important work of the National Restaurant Association in its centennial year reflects our tradition of excellence and the mission of the Society to celebrate achievement among our alumni and our valued industry partners,” noted Ryan Spear, President of PSHRS and President of Spear Travel Group.

Before joining the National Restaurant Association, Sweeney was President and CEO of AARP Services. She has more than 25 years of marketing, advocacy, and policy experience, including leadership roles at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the International Dairy Foods Association, the trade association for the nation's dairy foods industry, where she launched the “milk mustache” advertising campaign.

Sweeney has been named one of the perennial top association CEOs in the country for the past several years and was recently recognized as Trade Association CEO of the Year by Leading Authorities. She has served on the boards the U.S. Travel Association and the Women’s Foodservice Forum, and is an active member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Committee of 100, the International Women’s Forum, and the Committee of 200, an international network of female executives. Sweeney currently serves as Co-Chair of Save the Children and as Chair of the Bryce Harlow Foundation. She has served as a member of the Board and Executive Committee of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and was recently named an “ASAE Fellow,” a designation reserved for the top one percent of association leaders in the nation.

A native of Maine, she is a graduate of Colby College and earned her MBA at George Washington University.

For more than 80 years, the Penn State School of Hospitality Management has been a leader in higher education and research in service to the hospitality industry. With innovative courses, a tradition of engaged scholarship, and discipline-shaping research by world-class faculty, the school inspires all students to pursue excellence in scholarship, exhibit a strong work ethic, and become effective and ethical innovators.

To learn more about the dinner and reserve attendance, visit