MERCED, Calif. — From customer service and conflict resolution to crafting cocktails, local students can learn all the skills they need for jobs in hotels, restaurants and more through Merced College’s Hospitality Career Academy. The free, 12-week program kicks off with an event at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Mainzer in downtown Merced.

Spaces are still available for the second cohort of the academy, a partnership between Merced College, El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer that launched in Fall 2021 and saw its first 15 students graduate in December. In completing the program, students receive college credits in addition to practical training and sage advice from longtime industry leaders.

In its second installment, the Hospitality Career Academy will offer expanded course offerings and expertise, thanks in part to a growing cadre of community and industry partners.

For example, a new food safety course will include ServSafe Manager Certification, an essential step for anyone looking to build a career in hospitality. Also new this year is an introductory course on creating cocktails, taught by Billy Pedrozo from Bella Luna. Pedrozo will cover basic bar setup, safety and sanitation, and preparation of basic and popular drinks with alcohol and as mocktails.

“This program is why community colleges exist — to help students of all ages and abilities take control of their lives and build a foundation for new careers,” President Chris Vitelli said. “I’m so proud of everyone involved in this innovative partnership, and excited for the future of not only our students, but the local businesses and customers who will benefit from their advanced skills in these areas.”

Students will receive 48 total hours of training on topics including communication, customer service, team building, conflict management, unconscious bias, and attitude in the workplace. Near the end of the program, students will participate in a “Community Interview Day” in which they can meet with local employers to learn about job opportunities, ask questions and apply for jobs.

Completing the academy also prepares students well for ongoing education, such as through enrollment in Merced College’s culinary management program.

“For anyone considering applying for jobs in the hospitality sector, which is growing rapidly in the Merced area, this academy is an absolute no-brainer,” Professor Jonae Pistoresi said. “Graduates from this program will be better prepared for those jobs, better prepared for their job interviews, and better prepared to handle delicate situations in every aspect of their lives. You will learn and grow in unexpected ways through this academy.”

For information or to apply for the Hospitality Career Academy, contact Dorota Mimms at or (209) 386-6733.