In today’s competitive job market, applicants with early experience in their chosen field are at a big advantage. Young people who are considering a career in the hospitality industry can get that hands-on experience through educational programs like the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism (AOHT).
Part of the National Academy Foundation, AOHT offers programs in nearly 100 high schools across the United States. “Students who want to get in this field are making connections very early on, with either internships, field trips, or guest speakers who come to the school,” says Lisa Garcia, principal of Alonzo & Tracy Mourning Senior High Biscayne Bay in Miami, an AOHT school. “So when these students go off to college, they are already in established positions in the hospitality and tourism market.” Students can take college-level courses through Florida International University (FIU) while they are still in high school, Garcia adds. The university has a highly rated hospitality and tourism program.
Mourning High has about 1,600 students, 268 of which are participating in the AOHT program. Lead teacher Don Festge says the program was a natural fit for the school because of its proximity to FIU and plenty of hotels and resorts located by the beach. Courses include an introduction to hospitality and tourism, computing, and marketing. Festge says about 40 students in the program are taking college-level hospitality classes at FIU, and they also participate in internships that usually go to college students. “They go far beyond the scope of what we teach them at the high school level, but they really get the opportunity to see what is available for them at the college level,” Festge says.
Katie Goncalves took courses through the Academy while a student at Miami Beach Senior High School. When Goncalves graduated in 2006, she launched her hospitality career with a summer internship at a Days Inn in South Beach. She then attended Northwood University in Michigan, where she majored in business with a specialization in hospitality. Today, she works as a sales coordinator at the Swan and Dolphin resorts at World Disney World.
One of the most memorable aspects of the program was a shadowing day at a Loews hotel, Goncalves recalls. “That was my first experience with learning about the sales side in hotels. It was a great experience to get out there and meet professionals in the field.”
When Maydel Almaguer entered the Academy program at Miami Beach Senior High School, she didn’t initially plan on pursuing a career in hospitality. “When I first heard of the Academy, all I knew was that they went on awesome field trips,” she says. But once Almaguer became more immersed in the program, she discovered how much it had to offer. By the time she graduated in 2008, she had determined the hotel industry was the right fit. Now, Almaguer works as a reservation sales manager for a Marriott in Doral, Fla.
“For most people who sign up, they think, ‘Let me try and do something above and beyond to get into college,’” Almaguer says. “But then you realize you have a genuine care for the hospitality industry…and all of a sudden, you want to be a GM when you thought you were going to pursue business or teaching.”