Virginia Tech student workers gain valuable hotel, restaurant experience

vtech-logoDebbie Cadenas of Middleburg, Virginia, is one of at least 100 students who work at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center at any given time. A sophomore with a double major in finance and hospitality and tourism management in the Pamplin College of Business, she is soon to complete her first two years of work as a server.

“This is not just a job. I feel like we are just a huge group of family members,” Cadenas says.

Students’ part-time jobs typically involve banquets, Preston’s Restaurant, and the front desk at the inn, which includes massive conference spaces and 147 hotel rooms and suites.

“It’s amazing to think about how many students help run this hotel,” says Angela Ryder of Hot Springs, Virginia, the inn’s front desk manager, who graduated in 2013 and is now a full-time employee. Her career dates to her sophomore year at Virginia Tech, when she became a guest-services representative, satisfying the 400-hour field study required of hospitality and tourism management majors.

When Benchmark Hospitality took over the inn’s management in January 2011, a renewed effort began to enlarge its relationship with the Pamplin College of Business. Tom Shaver, the inn’s general manager, paired up with Richard Parsons, associate professor and undergraduate advisor. Together they developed a plan to offer field study opportunities for students.

Though not all of the students are hospitality and tourism majors, the inn is a popular choice for those needing to fulfill required hours. Typically, first-year and second-year students work to fulfill a 300-hour work requirement, and many stay on during their junior and senior years for the field study work.

“Our guests love hearing from students while they are here,” Shaver says. “They are constantly asking questions about Virginia Tech and Blacksburg. The students are definitely a part of what makes the inn unique.”

The inn created six positions in the food and beverage department and another six in the rooms department, where students are exposed to the nitty-gritty of the work as well as training by management staff. Shaver says the program “provides a lot of variety for student experience, allowing them to get a taste of each area of the hotel.”

Ashley Laughon of Roanoke, Virginia, at first wondered whether she could handle a part-time job while attending school. Curious about event planning, she decided to major in hospitality and tourism management with a minor in communication.

Beginning work as a sales assistant in April 2013, she found the job a good fit despite her early misgivings – mostly because of the inn’s campus location and flexibility in scheduling her hours. As a sales assistant, she helps with contracts and client events. She’s also the head coordinator for Fashions for Evergreens, the annual tree-decorating competition that brightens the inn’s foyer each December.

Laughon appreciates the field-study aspect of the hospitality and tourism program, which helped her earn an internship this past summer in the events design studio at the Breakers, a prestigious resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

“It builds experience directly into the course load, and experience is what helps most students get jobs,” she said.

Laughon sees herself going into events, sales, or marketing after graduation in 2015 but is not certain. She realizes that “in this industry, there are so many places to go and even more ways to get there.”

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