Merced College’s Hospitality Career Academy (HCA), a new and innovative partnership between the college and JdV by Hyatt, held its inaugural graduation ceremony on Dec. 6 at the Mainzer in downtown Merced.

The ceremony honored the first cohort of students to complete the program, which is designed to equip and prepare local residents for careers in the hospitality industry. 

“This program is a shining example of what Merced College does best,” President Chris Vitelli said. “We provide our students with outstanding opportunities to learn and grow into new careers, and we partner in thoughtful ways with businesses and organizations in our community to help meet their needs in the process. This is a huge win-win for our region, and we’re so proud to be a part of it.”

The graduation ceremony, which was attended by local elected officials and dignitaries, also included remarks from Robin Donovan, Managing Director of El Capitan, Mainzer and Tioga, and Caroline Dawson, Acting Dean of Instruction at Merced College. Students presented about their experiences in the academy, and business Professor Jonae Pistoresi provided an overview of the program.

In the academy, students received 48 total hours of training on topics including communication, customer service, team building, conflict management, unconscious bias, and attitude in the workplace. Students also gained knowledge and wisdom from a number of guest speakers, including many leaders from El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer.

“The participants had the opportunity to learn about important topics to help them to be successful in the hospitality industry,” Pistoresi said. “They also were able to hear from experts in the field. They learned about the speakers’ career paths, the challenges and rewards of their careers, and real-life examples that tied in with their courses.” 

Near the end of the 12-week academy, students participated in a “Community Interview Day” in which they were able to meet with local employers to learn about job opportunities, ask questions and apply for jobs.

“Here at El Capitan and Mainzer, our centermost goal is to foster growth within our local community of Merced,” said People Manager Megan Metz. “We are constantly seeking ways to provide the people of Merced with events that develop talent and create career opportunities.

“It was such an enriching experience to be a part of the Community Interview Day for Merced College students. I hope events such as these provide students a strong sense of excitement to have career opportunities right here in their backyard.”

The academy’s inaugural cohort included 15 participants from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. Students agreed the program provided education and real-world experience they wouldn’t typically receive in a normal class setting.

“We learned stress management techniques and how to deescalate a bad situation, which can be used in our careers and in our lives,” student Alexis Presto said. “The unconscious bias class opens you to thinking about other people instead of just judging them. It’s helped me to become a better communicator, keeping in mind that we are all different.” 

“This program opened my mind up on certain topics I wouldn’t have normally thought of,” student Emily Featherston added. “For example, not everyone acts and thinks the same way, and that is okay. If someone lashes out at you, it might be because they are having a bad day and it may not be about you. So, we should try to think about that before reacting to them.”

Merced College and JdV plan to offer another Hospitality Career Academy in Spring 2022, with the addition of a new mixology class to prepare students for in-demand jobs in bartending. A kickoff event is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31.

For information on the next Hospitality Career Academy, contact Dorota Mimms at or (209) 386-6733.

Merced College does not discriminate, and prohibits harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, age, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.

Media Contact: James Leonard,, 209-681-1061