UMass hotel program expands 
as casinos seek employee base

Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2014
AMHERST — Judging from those who turned out at a recent jobs fair at the University of Massachusetts, MGM International, seeking to build an $800 million resort casino in Springfield, could be an appealing employer for graduates of the school’s hotel management program.

“What interests me in MGM is the luxury culture of it,” said Emily Donaldson, a sophomore from Taunton who spent last summer interning at the Intercontinental in Boston.

“A hotel at a casino would be excellent for me,” said Arsalaan Khawaja, a junior from Westfield who now works at Hotel UMass at the Campus Center Complex.

At the 40th annual, student-organized Career Day both students met with representatives from MGM and Mohegan Sun, which is planning a similar $1.3 billion entertainment destination in Revere. The event brought out around 400 students, all wearing professional business attire.

“We want to perfect the image,” said Alexandra Haddad, who chairs the student organizing committee for the fair. She said this year was the fourth year MGM participated in the fair and the first time for Mohegan Sun.

Career Day drew representatives from 65 companies, including casinos, upscale hotels, country clubs and resorts to the UMass Campus Center last week. Prominent names in the industries, such as Marriott and Hyatt, were present to recruit and provide information to students.

Haemoon Oh, head of the UMass hotel and tourism management department, said an interest in casinos has surged at Isenberg and that around 70 students each year take a casino management class.

“Since the announcement of the casino industry in Massachusetts, the class has literally doubled” in size, Oh said.

Moreover, he said, casino companies are reaching out to the schools teaching the subject and are actively getting students thinking about that as a future.

Haddad said students at the event were creating relationships with recruiters and building a list of contacts within their chosen fields. “It’s all about networking, getting your resume out there, getting your name out there, and seeing what opportunities are there,” Haddad said.

The turnout for the fair indicates how highly regarded the hospitality program within Isenberg is and how many opportunities students will have, Haddad said.

Student interest

Daniel Harpaz, a UMass senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., and member of the organizing committee, said there is a wide spectrum to the hospitality industry, and that Mohegan Sun and MGM represent a trend that can’t be ignored.

“Casinos are a huge part of that industry,” said Harpaz, who has a job lined up with the Sofitel hotel when he graduates this spring. “It’s really important to have that side of the industry represented.”

Already, several students have spent time with MGM in Las Vegas, either for full-time jobs or summer internships, Haddad said.

“It’s exciting for those students who want to relocate out west,” said Haddad, a senior from Shrewsbury.

Haddad said that the casino company offers manager-in-training, or “MIT,” positions. And with casinos planned for both Springfield and eastern Massachusetts, and those already thriving in Connecticut, UMass students now have an even better chance of being able to remain in — or return to — the Pioneer Valley to work.

In fact, Julia Carmody, a senior from Ludlow, said students who gain experience with MGM could serve on a team that assists with the opening of the Springfield casino.

MGM has estimated its project will create 3,000 permanent jobs, while Mohegan Sun says it will bring 4,000 permanent jobs through its project.

Kelley Tucky, vice president for community affairs and public relations for MGM Resorts, said career day events like the one at UMass are a chance to let students know what the company can offer.

First are hospitality internships, which are for current juniors and seniors, and typically are six-to eight-week trainings based in Las Vegas that provide experience in areas such as hotel operations or food and beverage management.

Second is the management associate program, which can put a graduate on a path to a full-time career.

Tucky said MGM sees interest not just from hospitality students at UMass, but students pursuing other occupations, such as in finance.

More jobs and internships will be located in the area once the casino opens, she said.

“As the license is made available and we look forward to opening in 2016, we hope to bring on student internships,” Tucky said.

Already, the downtown Springfield office MGM opened has attracted interest from many people and has shown the community that the jobs go beyond operating slot machines and gaming tables.

“Education about the industry has been ongoing for the last two years,” Tucky said.

Though Donaldson is too young to work for MGM, which requires students to be at least 21 for internships, she understands that she and others may benefit from the casinos.

“Their coming to Springfield will be a great opportunity for hotel and tourism management students,” Donaldson said.

Khawaja said he spoke to MGM recruiters about its management associate program and his interest in being a front desk clerk.

He said all indications are that this is a growing field. “I like that the business is expanding in the area and a lot of opportunities for different people,” Khawaja said.

Still, he said he’s more than happy to consider any of the other companies that came to career day.

“It doesn’t matter where, but I want to have the experience of working in a big corporation,” Khawaja said.

After meeting with recruiters from Mohegan Sun, James Dinarello, a senior from Topsfield, said the hotel connected to the casino is ideal. “I would use the hotel as a way in,” Dinarello said.

He already had an internship with a North Carolina-based bed and breakfast, but with family in Revere, a place he expects to be altered by the casino.

“For me, I figure it will change the city a lot,” Dinarello said.

The students who organized career day spent the last several months planning and reaching out to corporations, both large and small, Carmody said.

“There are so many jobs for the hospitality students who are here,” Carmody sad,

Oh said 85 to 90 percent of graduating seniors will be placed in jobs upon graduation.

“They know they can get a high quality student out of our program,” Oh said.

This is partially based on their hands-on work, including running the career day.

“All students are required to graduate with work experience,” Oh said. “They should be able to fill out some of the entry level positions immediately.”

“Students here are always willing to get their hands dirty,” Harpaz said. “We don’t expect to get incredible salaries right away.”