Aggressive marketing and recruiting -- and controversy -- have helped spread the word about the two hospitality management programs at Howard Community College and have made them popular choices among students

Cooking up a reputation


After one semester in Howard Community College's fledgling hospitality management program, Meghan Hess, 21, was offered a change of scenery for the spring 2005 semester.

She went to Disney World.

When the Ellicott City resident got back from her semester-long internship -- which included living in Disney housing, working at the theme park and networking with managers -- she found the classes that had five or 10 students in them when she left were filling up, and more people were joining the program every day.

"I came in when [the program] wasn't that developed," Hess said. "Now people are excited about the program and how far it has come."

In fact, two distinct programs -- hospitality management and culinary management -- which began in 2003, have grown to about 111 students today, said Vinnie Rege, the programs' director.

Last spring, that number was 38, he said.

He credits aggressive marketing, including seminars at high schools, several information sessions each year and an effort to target students at the college who have not chosen a major.

A hospitality club has been formed and has held events, including a cooking competition, a vegetable-carving demonstration and a speaker program.

And, Rege said, controversy over the program's use of the Belmont Conference Center has drawn attention to the program, as well.

"I get five or six calls every day from students," he said. "I get 10 to 15 calls [from employers] asking for students to start working."

The programs arose from research that indicated a dramatic rise in demand for qualified workers in restaurants, hotels, resorts and other hospitality businesses, said Sharon Schmickley, chairwoman of the Business/Computer Systems Division at HCC.

For example, the Maryland Association of Community Colleges reported in July 2001 that 57,000 jobs were added in Maryland's tourism industry over 12 months.

Anne Arundel Community College had the nearest hospitality program for Howard and Carroll County students, Schmickley said. When students did not get in there, many went out of state.

"Hospitality is the largest employer in Maryland outside of government," said Marshall Weston, executive vice president of the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation. "For people that have not only culinary training but management training, the demand is more and more."

Schmickley said HCC's program is intended to stand apart from others in several ways.

HCC is the only community college in the state to offer a program in culinary management, she said, which differs from culinary arts in its focus on managing staff and running kitchen operations in addition to preparing the food.

The Belmont Conference Center also is intended to be a highlight of the program.

The college's educational foundation purchased the 18th-century manor house, which has been a conference center since 1964, in November 2004.

Three lecture classes take place at the center now. A master plan prepared by the college includes renovating two buildings to add an industrial kitchen and more classroom space.

Administrators also are developing opportunities for students to take part in the day-to-day operations of the center.

The goal is to offer students a professional experience that includes the support of an academic environment, Schmickley said.

"There is a difference between internships versus guided experiences with your own facility," she said. "That is why the top 20 [hospitality] schools in the country have commercial facilities attached to them."

Said Weston: "I think [using Belmont] would elevate their program not only across the state but in the nation."

Several issues are being resolved regarding the college's use of the site, which is surrounded by parkland and protected by historic easements.

To pay the mortgage on the property, County Executive James N. Robey proposed that the county purchase it from the educational foundation. He also proposed that the renovation projects be directed by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks.

A group of community members has asked the county to refuse to fund proposed changes at Belmont, including plans for a new access road, public water and sewer lines and additional buildings.

The opponents to the college's plans fear for the secluded and historic nature of the property.

The hospitality curriculum is "a good program," one Belmont neighbor, Meg Schumacher, told the county executive at a budget hearing last month. "This is absolutely the wrong place for it."

As the college works on plans for combining Belmont's business and educational aspects, students are taking advantage of internships and part-time jobs, including Hess' experience at Disney, which she obtained when a recruiter came to campus.

"All the people I've met working in the industry ... say the most important thing they value is hands-on experience," she said.

In the classroom, HCC is relying on instructors with real-world experience to make the lessons practical and engaging.

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