Michaela Schmidlin, MPM ’18, can put your fear of hosting holiday company in perspective.
As Entertainment and Event Programming Manager for Asheville-based The Biltmore Company, Schmidlin serves as the project manager for a number of estate events, the largest undertaking being Christmas at Biltmore and Candlelight Christmas Evenings. This two-month celebration provides visitors to America’s largest privately owned home (with a whopping 250 rooms) and one of North Carolina’s top tourist destinations (1.4 million annual visitors) with an unforgettable holiday experience like no other, featuring hundreds of wreaths, miles of garland, thousands of lights, more than 50 hand-decorated and styled Christmas trees, plus live music and themed events across the estate.
Schmidlin also manages several other signature events, including Biltmore Blooms, a celebration of the estate’s spectacular gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the father of American landscape architecture, as well as the annual Easter Egg Hunt on the front lawn of Biltmore House.
Now in her sixth year at Biltmore, her time is increasingly dedicated to temporary exhibitions.
More than half a million guests experienced daytime and nighttime viewings of "Chihuly at Biltmore", a temporary exhibition that showcased art installations from world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly and the first art exhibition in Biltmore’s historic gardens.
“I’m most proud of my work with ‘Summer of Glass,’ a collaboration with Asheville area glass artists and the Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, which coincided with 'Chihuly at Biltmore',” Schmidlin said. “I helped organize this community-wide celebration with special exhibitions, tours, workshops and events throughout Western N.C. I loved the opportunity it afforded to serve my community.”
Her unique talents to define project objectives and scope, identify required resources, create budgets, direct and lead a cross-departmental project team, and strategically delegate tasks to appropriate team members, are getting recognized. Not only is she receiving accolades and added responsibilities within the Biltmore organization, others in the region are taking notice. Schmidlin has been named among the “40 under Forty,” which recognizes some of the Asheville area’s brightest young professionals who are making a difference in their organizations and communities.
Schmidlin’s professional background is largely rooted in food and beverage management, with experiences in fine dining, private events, weddings, hotels, and membership clubs in both New York City and Asheville.
She had been working at Biltmore for a year when an on-site hotel was constructed and a corresponding lodging events position was created. She became the first to hold that title for the estate’s lodging properties -- the Forbes Four-Star Inn on Biltmore Estate and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate -- and was responsible for driving bookings, profitability, guest satisfaction and loyalty for the estate’s lodging business.
“Because (the lodging events position) was new and largely uncharted territory, my boss at the time encouraged me to network within the organization to identify existing project management tools and solutions to aid me in the work I was doing,” Schmidlin said. “What I found among colleagues was a shared need for these processes and supporting tools, and no universal solution or common language.”
Together, she and her boss explored external resources that could benefit the organization.
Schmidlin set her sights higher.
“Biltmore as an organization champions continuing education by offering tuition reimbursement,” she said. “So, I thought, why not go for the master's degree?”
Schmidlin saw many schools offering MBAs with a concentration in project management, but she preferred project management to be her sole focus.
“Hospitality management and project management go hand in hand,” Schmidlin said. “Every unique event requires its own set of resources. More and more, our industry is focused on the experiential, and as event management professionals, we are driven to deliver something new, that’s never been done before—in essence, a project.”
The reputation of WCU’s Master’s of Project Management program — one of the first in the country accredited by the Project Management Institute — and the fact that the program was entirely online were key determinants. The program’s system for acceptance was an added draw.
“I liked that WCU offered a point system for acceptance that allowed me to leverage my professional and Board experience, prior GPA, and letters of recommendation; I qualified to bypass the GRE,” Schmidlin said.
The program’s online delivery allowed her the flexibility to set her own schedule, which proved particularly convenient after the birth of her first child near the end of the program, while also still providing important collaboration and networking opportunities with her cohort.
“I was often wowed by the caliber of my classmates which included engineers, Army officers, a fire station chief, health care professionals and EMTs, and a fellow event manager,” Schmidlin said. “I most enjoyed the group work, which allowed us to learn from each other and hold each other accountable.”
Shortly after earning her degree, she stepped into a leadership role on Biltmore’s Project Management Taskforce, which was charged with creating a standard process for Biltmore projects, identifying a universal project management software tool, and developing a related curriculum for the organization. They have already achieved all of the goals, with beta testing for the project management curriculum occurring earlier this year.
“(Attending WCU) proved to be the right decision,” she said. “It’s incredibly gratifying to put my degree to use so quickly and to have the support of the organization to progress in this way.”
App Deadline: Aug. 1, Dec. 15
Pre-Requisites: GRE NOT required
Time to Complete: 36 hours, 24 months