From crafting cocktails to conflict resolution, the graduates of Merced College’s Hospitality Career Academy learned the skills they need to get jobs in the industry and to better navigate professional and personal relationships.

The second cohort of the academy — a partnership between the college, El Capitan and the Mainzer — recently completed the 12-week program and celebrated at a graduation ceremony May 23 at the Mainzer. The 20 graduates ranged from current high schoolers to experienced workers in their 70s, and each received 3 college credits by completing the free academy.

Merced College President Chris Vitelli encouraged the graduates to continue their educational journeys.

“Education transforms lives and communities,” Vitelli said. “We believe this opportunity is just the beginning. Get your foot in the door, and continue to get your education. Tell others about it. Together we can have a ripple effect in this community.”

In the academy, students receive training on topics including communication, customer service, team building, conflict management, unconscious bias, and attitude in the workplace. The academy was developed last year and launched in August 2021.

The second session, held in Spring 2022, expanded on the initial offerings, adding a class in crafting cocktails in partnership with Bella Luna; ServSafe training to equip students with food handling and alcohol certifications; and strengthened relationships with local businesses like El Portal Dining, Courtyard Marriott, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Merced, UC Merced and Hi-Fi Wines.

Students gained knowledge and wisdom from a number of guest speakers, including leaders from El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer. Near the end of the academy, students participated in a “Hospitality Job Fair” in which they were able to meet with local employers to learn about job opportunities, ask questions and apply for jobs. One student learned the day of the graduation ceremony that he had been hired as a steward at the El Capitan.

“I can’t tell you how proud we are of these students,” said Kim Garner, Director of Community Impact for El Capitan and Mainzer. “They were tenacious and ready to learn. With the partnership of Merced College, we are building our future workforce.”

“This partnership is based on giving back to the community,” said Caroline Dawson, Dean of Instruction at Merced College. “The experience for our students has been life-changing.”

The Hospitality Career Academy will return in the fall, with a kickoff event tentatively scheduled for Aug. 29 at the Mainzer. Registration will open in early August, and classes will begin in early to mid-September.

The academy continues to expand through community partnerships, with plans for lessons on exploring the art and business of “creating an experience” in hospitality, as well as the catering, banquets and events-side of hospitality. There are also plans for a junior academy to connect high school students to the hospitality career pathway.

For many students, the hospitality industry can be a doorway to new career opportunities. Patrick Jackson, a Fresno State alumnus, has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business and has worked predominantly in the ag sector. Feeling unfulfilled, he decided to branch into hospitality by taking a job as a barback at a Fresno night club.

Through the Hospitality Career Academy, Jackson hopes to fully transition into the industry with an emphasis on the beverage and nightlife sectors.

“I fully enjoyed the program, from the workshops to the speeches given by professionals working in the industry,” Jackson said. “The program solidified a lot of practices for me that I now employ at the club where I work. The greatest takeaway from this experience is that everything you learn here, although geared for customer service industry, can be applied to any job or sector.”

For information on the Hospitality Career Academy, contact Dorota Mimms at (209) 384-6223 or