Hospitality students eat up immersive learning experience with Stonebridge Companies

WSU hospitality students gained unique knowledge of hotel and restaurant operations thanks to a special, week-long learning opportunity at Stonebridge Companies.

Whether people share a simple dinner or gourmet meal, the act of breaking bread often invokes feelings of friendship, generosity and sometimes, collaboration. Carson College Executive Chef Jamie Callison can testify to the occurrence of these sentiments many times over throughout his career, but recently they merged in a very tangible way.

While catering the WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture advisory board dinner, Callison connected with guest Navin Dimond (’85 Bus. Admin., Const. Mgmt.), a respected leader in the hotel development and management industry.

Dimond, who is the founder, president and CEO of Stonebridge Companies, has a history of providing unique learning opportunities for WSU students interested in hospitality business management, marketing, sales and construction management careers.

Impressed by the talents of the hospitality student catering team that evening, Dimond approached Callison with a new opportunity to immerse hospitality students in a week-long learning experience at the Stonebridge corporate office and key properties in Denver.

“My goal was to influence students in a positive way and give them an educational experience that would have lifetime value,” says Dimond.

Callison worked with WSU School of Hospitality Business Management leadership and Mark Newman, Stonebridge’s vice president of food and beverage, to create a course outline that would give students insights into food and beverage, culinary and hotel operations.

A “behind-the-scenes” look at hospitality sectors

On an October Sunday, Callison and 13 excited students flew to Denver to begin the immersion experience at 8 a.m. sharp the following day. First on the agenda was a tour of the Stonebridge corporate office and information sessions on hotel design and construction as well as ecommerce, revenue management and accounting—topics that tie into the Carson College’s emphasis on financial literacy education across all majors.

“I was very interested in seeing how the business concepts we learn at WSU, such as revenue management, play into a real hospitality business,” says Sherlane Yuen, who hopes to one day support nonprofits that benefit humanitarian needs such as food, farming or clean water.

Dimond led a discussion with the students to address their finance-related questions, from marketing and room pricing strategies to performance measures and their causes.

In the days following, instruction occurred at Stonebridge’s Jacquard and Renaissance hotels as well as the Narrative restaurant in Denver, where all students learned more about accounting and human resources before separating into their respective areas of interest.

Operations students shadowed administrators in engineering, pool operations, property management, front desk services and guest experience.

“When I first heard about this program I knew it was something I would be very interested in because of my passion for hotel operations and because Stonebridge Companies owns such a wide variety of hotels all over the nation,” says Caleigh Swetters. “This experience helped prepare me for a career in hospitality, and by learning from industry leaders and professionals, I understand more how hotels operate and how departments collaborate seamlessly.”

Culinary students observed food prep in the kitchen, beverage menu development, service sequence, tabling and hosting duties.

“I am very interested in the events department and was excited to have the food and beverage operations focus for the week because I know they are cross-functional teams,” says Hannah Umansky. “This is a great step in my education and furthers my hard skills in this field.”

“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of owning my own restaurant,” says Justin Walker. “Having the opportunity to work alongside Industry professionals in my chosen field is extremely beneficial and exciting. This program provided me with a new perspective on the industry.”

Hands-on practice reveals classroom relevance

All students applied their new knowledge at the end of the week by working with the Narrative and Jacquard culinary teams to host a catered dinner for area WSU alumni, Carson College Dean Chip Hunter and Bob Harrington, director of the WSU School of Hospitality Business Management. Culinary students worked in the kitchen while food and beverage students worked as servers and guest experience professionals. Operations students were among the dinner guests and responsible for evaluating the food, service and guest experience and suggesting policy recommendations to hotel staff.

“The Stonebridge learning experience shows students the relevance of their education in a unique way,” says Callison. “Students don’t always get the same connection between class learning and industry from an internship. Real-world experiences help students broaden their views on their career goals and aspirations.”

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to receive invaluable industry knowledge that will enhance our education and careers immensely,” says Emma Claire Spring. “I can take the knowledge I learned from this program and apply it to my next summer internship, my first post-grad job and maybe even into the business plan of my very first boutique hotel.”

Fortunately for the hospitality program, it won’t be a once-in-a-lifetime event: Dimond plans to fine tune the week-long immersion experience and offer it again next year.

“I am truly obligated and privileged to share my company’s success with students,” says Dimond. “We all have a responsibility to give back, not because I’m a CEO and it looks good, but because it’s the right thing to do. And, you never know—the business student you help today could be the one helping your business in the future.”

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