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Hilton demo room gives MNE students world-class vision

Monday, May 4, 2015

Faculty member Sara Kitchen, left, with Nick Kightlinger, Stephanie Constable and Katie Rubbico.

Sara Kitchen stood at the head of the bed and pulled back the duvet to inspect her students’ work.

“Corners are tucked, sheet is smooth, very nice,” she said.

Kitchen, instructor in the Mercyhurst North East Hospitality Management Program, and the students in her housekeeping operations course were among the first to hold class in the recently completed demo hotel room at the Miller Estate, 1640 Freeport Road.

The hotel room is the first phase of a master plan to transform the 12-acre estate, gifted by university friend, trustee and philanthropist Robert Miller to Mercyhurst in 2012, into an interactive culinary and hospitality learning lab. A donation from Hilton Worldwide helped equip the room, located in the former estate garage, with real Hilton furniture, fixtures and equipment.  

The hotel room will be a wonderful tool to provide hands-on experience to students, enabling them to apply their knowledge in a real-world situation without having to visit a hotel, according to Beth Ann Sheldon, program director.

“So many of the employers who recruit our hospitality management students are from hotels. These new facilities will allow us to prepare our students for employment at the same world-class standard as our culinary program,” Sheldon said. “It’s one thing to tell students about the types of sheets that hotels buy; it’s another to show them the sheets on a bed and work with them in a real-world setting.”

In the first few housekeeping operations classes in the demo room, students covered everything from turndown service and room etiquette to dusting and cleaning the fixtures and equipment. Equipped exactly like a hotel, the room includes a bed with linens, chairs and an ottoman, refrigerator, ice bucket, closet safe and an en suite bathroom.

Cleaning and room prep, however, are but a small part of the hotel industry, and the demo room will also be a valuable resource for classes such as hotel rooms management and hospitality engineering.

“Our students aren’t simply learning how to clean; they’re learning about the human resource management of housekeeping staff, how to handle purchasing for the hotel, management of laundry operations,” Sheldon said. “We concentrate a lot on the front desk operations and customer service, but these behind-the-scenes operations are a major part of what someone entering the hotel industry needs to understand.”

In keeping with this philosophy, part of the housekeeping operations class final will require students to take on the role of a housekeeping supervisor, inspect the room and identify mistakes in cleaning and room preparation that the housekeeper overlooked.

Also among the first students to use the lab were several students from Mercyhurst North East’s Oasis program, which teaches employment skills in culinary arts and hospitality to adults 18 and older with documented intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. The hotel room will aid in the hospitality training for the Oasis students, as well, according to Kitchen, who also directs the Oasis program.

“It will be great for our students when they graduate to have real-world practice in an actual hotel room, such as this,” she said.

Students at both the North East and Erie campuses will have access to the Miller estate spaces.

The Miller property, valued at over $1 million, features a 5,600-square-foot home, gorgeous gardens, spacious garage, a rustic barn and five acres of Concord grapes. Also on the premise is the headquarters of Better Baked Foods, the company Miller co-founded in 1969. He, his wife and their seven children lived at the residence for 25 years.

The completion of the demo hotel room is the first step in transforming Miller’s generous gift into an integral part of Mercyhurst’s culinary and hospitality curriculum.

“Mercyhurst Hospitality Management has always had a stellar reputation in restaurant management because we have such stellar facilities at North East and Erie,” Sheldon said. “Now we’re able to add a hotel to that.”