Student Stories: Emily Mitchell

“Gateway to Glacier Bay National Park”Emily Mitchell

Emily Mitchell looks forward to the spring of 2008, when she will cross the stage in her cap and gown to receive her baccalaureate degree in hospitality management. After a memorable college experience at NMU’s School of Technology and Applied Sciences, Emily feels prepared to begin her career as a wedding planner.

“I’ll probably go to Duluth, Minn.,” Emily says, anticipating a move from her hometown of Marquette, Mich. “I just think it’s something I have to do [for my career]. I love that it’s a bigger city than Marquette, and it’s still right on Lake Superior.”

Although Emily sees herself moving away from home for the first time after graduation, she’s relieved to have a sense of direction as her education comes to an end. Like many students her age, Emily sent out an application for college in her senior year of high school, hoping to begin study toward a degree that fall. She worked 20 hours per week at Third Street Bagel and took full-time classes for the next four semesters, completing her general education courses and realizing that the program she had originally applied for wasn’t for her. After researching other programs, she decided that the School of Technology and Applied Sciences’ hospitality management program would better prepare her to meet future career goals.

Emily was glad to make the change and become a member of a “driven student body,” and she felt fortunate to study in “smaller classes within a well-balanced curriculum.”

“Students here know what they want to do, and that’s what they’re here for,” she says. However, despite knowing that she was receiving a quality education in a program geared more toward her interests, Emily’s confidence in the path she’d chosen still wasn’t completely sealed. It wasn’t until summer 2006, when Emily returned to Marquette after her internship in Gustavus, Alaska, that she felt as if she was doing the right thing with her life. “Without that experience, I wouldn’t have been as sure,” Emily says.

It was her first trip away from home for an extended period of time. Her mother drove her to the airport where Emily boarded a plane. Twelve hours later, she arrived in Juneau, Alaska, where she stepped onto a prop plane—the smallest plane she might have imagined—that took her the rest of the way.

When they landed in Gustavus, desolation set in. Gustavus “has one road, one gas station, one grocery store and miles of trees,” Emily says. “The first week I was really scared.” But after the fear dissipated and she settled into her living quarters, Emily began to appreciate the field she was working in and the area to which it brought her.

The small town of Gustavus, with less than 500 permanent, annual residents, is known as the “Gateway to Glacier Bay National Park.” Each summer, thousands of tourists flood this remote area to watch the glaciers calve, whales glide alongside hulls of charter boats and bald eagles crisscross overhead.

Emily worked eight-hour days on a tour boat, putting into practice the culinary skills she had perfected over the course of two semesters working in the School of Technology and Applied Sciences’ cafeteria.

“The curriculum is set up so that students run the cafeteria in their first and second semesters, and then work in Chez Nous (the school’s upscale restaurant) after that … which seemed like too much to me—not enough management experience,” Emily says. For her, the culinary component of the hospitality management program seemed heavy, and because she wanted to pursue management over a career as a chef (or related career) she balked at this amount of culinary training. But in the end, she found it to be entirely worth it; without this training, she may never have experienced Gustavus and gained such unique, real-world practice in the hospitality industry.

Emily came back from her summer in Alaska 100 percent confident in her decisions: she entered into the right program at the right school. The hospitality management’s curriculum and faculty have prepared Emily for a career that she’s excited about pursuing. Her internship has given her the experience to be marketable in her field, as well as the confidence to embark upon her own journey as a wedding planner in the spring of next year.

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