DU hospitality students get a real-life look at their chosen industry | VailDaily.com

DU hospitality students get a real-life look at their chosen industry

AVON — Kristen Pryor, general manager of the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa, sat at the head table and smiled at dozens of fresh faces belonging to eager young people who really, really want to be in the hospitality industry.

Some were bewildered, some were confident, and some looked at her like they were ready to take her chair right then.

The University of Denver's Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management brings a group of 50 students up to the Westin a couple of times every year. Those students tour hotels, meet with people in the industry and try to get a fix on whether this is really, really what they want to do.

"People are different, even at that age. There is always a handful who are ready to jump into the job. Some think they know, and think they're ready to jump straight into management. They'll learn, just like I did," Pryor said.

Moment of Truth

The group is usually first-year DU students. When they have two core classes in the winter and the spring, they get to take a road trip to learn a little about what hospitality is all about.

Recommended Stories For You

They leave Denver and arrive at the Westin at around 4:30 p.m., then they're on their own. While they're on their own they find the subject for what DU professor Patty Farmer calls their "Moment of Truth" paper, based on the first person they interact with in the hospitality industry. It could be the wait staff, the bellman, the front desk, the general manager — anyone.

The students asked a lot of questions.

"If you had a choice between starting in management in a mid-level hotel and as a bellman in a luxury hotel, which would you choose?"

Pryor suggested the bellman job because those employees need to understand perspectives of management, staff and guests.

The students got a little background about how people get into the hospitality industry. They get lots of perspectives.

They speak with executive staffs from the Sonnenalp, the Westin, the Four Seasons. They tour every part of every property.

Last week, during a string of huge storms that pounded the mountains, they even got to experience putting on tire chains and taking them off.

They learn that it's all hands on deck when you have to turn a room.

There was the time the housecleaning staff went on strike in a union hotel where they were staying. The students found themselves making beds and cleaning toilets.

"I don't even do that in my own house," Farmer joked.

No problems

Farmer has been doing this for nine years.

She gives her cell phone number to the front desk of all the hotels with strict instructions to call if there's a problem with one of her students. There never has been. Not once, not in nine years.

Before they can graduate, DU hospitality students have to work 500 hours in hospitality jobs, and another 500 hours in management. The manager gigs have to be paid.

"By the time our kids graduate, they know a lot about hospitality and what to do," Farmer said.

The DU career fair was late last week. Dozens of properties were there, recruiting talent. Vail Resorts hires a bunch of their students, Farmer said.

"The people in Vail and Beaver Creek take very good care of our students," Farmer said.

You are who you hire

The Westin donates the rooms to the students for this field trip, but Pryor said the hotel gets more than it gives.

"Professor Farmer has been a friend for years," Pryor said. "DU has been a great partner."

You are who you hire, and Pryor said there's the opportunity to drive some potential talent the Westin's way. It also gives the students a chance to see if this industry may or may not be a fit for them.

Here's one way to tell.

After the last question of the last panel discussion, some students storm the head table to ask more questions. They're generally polite, so they thank their hosts.

"They have that sparkle in their eye. They say they'd like to intern this summer," Pryor said.

And some will.

"There's hope for our future," Pryor said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.