Academics and Research

Knoebel hospitality students mentor refugees

Hospitality students work with a mentee in the Knoebel School's on-campus coffee shop. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Many immigrants who come to the United States have a tough time finding employment because of language barriers and a lack of job skills. Cheri Young, associate professor in the University of Denver’s Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, has incorporated service learning into the classroom by asking her students to mentor new immigrants on ways to bolster their job skills.

Students taking Young’s Managing Human Capital in Hospitality course were asked to train and counsel 10 refugees looking for jobs in the hospitality industry. Young has established a relationship with Denver’s African Community Center (ACC), which helps refugees who have fled to America after suffering persecution in their home countries. The Knoebel students worked directly with refugees through ACC’s Commercial Food Safety and Service Training Program, a 90-hour course that provides hands-on education about food service sanitation, customer service and American work culture.

“The opportunity for our hospitality management students to work with people from very diverse backgrounds is immense,” Young says. “This innovative program allows our students to get real-world experience by acting as employment mentors to the ACC refugees. The hospitality industry often is a gateway to employment for those with limited English language skills or education. I want my students to learn that caring for your employees is the right thing to do and ultimately can increase the profitability of a business.”

The students are mentoring new arrivals from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Liberia, Congo and Bhutan/Nepal on job-hunting skills, interviewing techniques and the various skills needed to work in the food-service and hotel industries. The Knoebel students are learning management skills such as developing training programs and employee manuals and conducting job interviews. Two additional students from Knoebel also participated by researching best practices that can be used by potential employers when hiring immigrant employees.

“This is the first time in my life where the work I do isn’t based on my own personal and professional development,” says student Tanisha Cocetti. “It’s all about Rabi [an ACC refugee participating in the service-learning project]. It’s about what I can do to assist him on his path to success. My hope is to provide him with the skills necessary to create a life for himself. He has so much potential, and I’m so blessed to be able to be a part of his life.”

The service-learning project concludes with a formal graduation May 23 in the Joy Burns Center. It is hoped that this mentorship/protégé relationship will continue beyond the end of the current school year. All 10 refugees have been placed in internships with various employers in the Denver area.

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