In a uniquely Wyoming partnership, community college students are learning the hospitality business inside luxury hotels and elite restaurants.
Through Central Wyoming College’s Jackson Outreach Center, students in northwest Wyoming are getting the chance of a lifetime, some even turning it into a lifelong career.
“This has been a career that I never expected I could have, but I’m doing it – and I’m pretty happy about that,” said Meredith Weber, a 2017 graduate of Central Wyoming College. Today, Weber is the sales room conference manager at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Jackson Hole.
Opened during the offseason in May 2017, the SpringHill Suites is a 121-room luxury hotel that cost $30 million to build, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Its fourth story contains nine condos ranging from 900 to 1,500 square feet, and the hotel is located in downtown Jackson.
And, importantly for Weber, it sits directly across the street from Central Wyoming College’s Jackson Outreach Center.
Weber moved to Wyoming from Philadelphia about five years ago, and first found work as a server. She wanted to break the cycle of serving, though, and decided to settle on a career path.
“I wanted to expand my knowledge in culinary arts to help my career along,” Weber said.
Through CWC’s culinary arts program, Weber found her way to Maho Catering, where she completed an internship, doing everything from working as a prep cook to catering high-end business events and on-site weddings.
It just so happened that at the same time, construction was underway on a brand-new hotel in downtown Jackson. The soon-to-be director of sales at the SpringHill Suites, Johanna Murphy, was also involved with CWC.
“Johanna ... was a substitute teacher for one of my sales classes at CWC, and I started talking to her about the hotel opening,” Weber said.
It was then, she said, that she realized she could be a part of the team that would open the hotel. She began at the front desk, and worked her way up to sales and events coordinator. Soon, she was promoted to sales room conference manager.
Her own hard work paid off, but Weber attributes much of her success to CWC’s programs, as well.
“I’m truly grateful for CWC. It was a great way to meet a lot of people, as well as network throughout the town and find a place where you want to be, to find where you want to fit within the community,” Weber said.
CWC’s Jackson-based internships are designed to serve the needs of the local community, as well as offer students the chance to upgrade job skills, train for technical careers, prepare for a bachelor’s degree or take non-credit classes.
Flagship programming in Jackson includes an accredited culinary and hospitality program that has a 100 percent employment rate upon graduation, according to the CWC.
The degree is uniquely tailored so that CWC students gain real work experience through internships, and become a part of Jackson’s local business community during the high-traffic tourist seasons.
“It is up to us to find our own placement, but they help us on the way,” Weber said.
Lynn McAuliffe, dean of business, technical, health and safety at Central Wyoming College, said it’s remarkable that culinary arts students have the chance to study under some of the best chefs in the world in Jackson Hole.
“We offer the students all internships during the busy season, and that is a big benefit for our employers, too, when workforce is a huge shortage issue, and it helps with job placement,” McAuliffe said.
For Weber, the path from server to manager at the SpringHill Suites represented “a bunch of little dots that connected to create this great opportunity,” she said.
“Through CWC, we were able to network and put ourselves out there during our internships, but then also we were able to go to different job fairs,” Weber said.
“I made my connection because not only was my (someday) boss a substitute teacher – which, it is very cool that all the teachers are local residents who use the off-season to teach – but the hotel was opening right across the main location of CWC in Jackson,” she said.
Weber is in the leadership role today, as the SpringHill Suites searches for up-and-coming students to fill internships this summer.
“Every summer, we do an internship with a college student or a high school student,” Weber said. “We’re also going to the job fair at the high school, and we will be looking for employees for this coming summer to work with us. It will be more of a sales intern focus with me (this summer).
“Going through the CWC program broke the cycle that I was stuck in, and it helped me cultivate all my education,” she said. “I’m really grateful.”