There are labs across Union College’s campus, from scientific research to writing, design, health care and education. Every student is provided with facilities and opportunities to explore their field in a hands-on setting. I count the Ortner Center among those laboratories—but rather than target any specific major, Union’s Guest Services trains students in hands-on hospitality. That’s a skill sorely needed in any career.
Making guests, friends and colleagues feel comfortable, welcome and appreciated goes far beyond a pleasant greeting (though that’s sometimes the hardest to teach). It’s hard work. Scrubbing. Troubleshooting technology. Anticipating needs. Learning to care about the details. And all with a smile.
Students are integral to every part of operating the Ortner Center, and our team philosophy is that everyone gets to do everything. There are no housekeepers. No front desk agents. Everyone cleans guest rooms. Everyone cleans bathrooms. Everyone knows how to direct inquiries and make reservations. Everyone learns from, and ultimately corrects, their own mistakes.
One key skill my students develop is communication. The campus visit program provides a steady year-round flow of prospective students and their parents to our guest rooms. Upon meeting an Enrollment Services guest, our hospitality specialists immediately become spokespersons for their academic division. I’ve often witnessed my workers convince visitors to not only choose Union College, but to consider an academic field similar to their own. Not that they’re biased or anything.
Occasionally we host prospective college employees for a multi-day interview. They always appreciate the very short commute from their guest room to the conference center down the hall. My potential colleagues ask the student workers about nearby neighborhoods, restaurants, shopping, health care providers, and whether or not they enjoy living in Lincoln. I have seen some particularly special bonds form when a new faculty member winds up teaching the hospitality specialist who assisted them when they first arrived on our campus. Believe me when I say you never know the fruits of a good first impression.
Because our guest rooms and conference center are available to the public, we host many groups who do not have any ties to our campus or Adventism. They typically find us by searching Google or a recommendation from the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. These guests often comment on how welcome they feel and how different our campus is. The only good explanation we’ve come up with for our differentness is, “God is here.”
As my predecessor, Sharon Russell, frequently said, “God is in the hotel business.” We see firsthand the transformative power of a good experience in the Ortner Center, and the way a helping hand can play a part in small miracles, both for guests and students.
It is my privilege to watch my student coworkers learn, serve and lead. When they have demonstrated their proficiency in the other labs across campus, it is the cleaning, communicating, organizing, solving and smiling-through-it-all done in the Ortner Center and other campus service jobs that gives them an edge above simple competence. Our hospitality lab makes them the sort of person you want on your team, whether as your doctor, accountant, teacher, manager, pastor or wherever God’s calling leads.