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New Program Prepares Mexican Immigrants for Hospitality Industry Careers

Professor O’Halloran teaching the program’s hospitality class. Photo credit: Yaniferz Cantor.

Although Mexican nationals make up a significant percentage of restaurant and hotel workers in the metropolitan New York area, they are frequently limited by lack of training and English language and math skills from moving up in the hospitality industry.

A new program offered through City Tech’s Division of Continuing Education aims to change that.

Under the auspices of the Mexican Consulate in New York City (the Honorable Rubén Guerrero Beltrán, Consul General) and The City University of New York (CUNY), with startup funding from the Ministry of Public Education, the program was launched this semester with 31 students of Mexican heritage in an intensive one-semester program to prepare them for careers in the hospitality industry. Students who successfully complete the program can opt to continue on for a degree at City Tech.

“City Tech is absolutely thrilled to work with the Mexican government and the Mexican-American community to bring this program to fruition,” says City Tech President Russell K. Hotzler. “The College has a long tradition of working with immigrant communities to provide them with the opportunity to begin a professional career here in the U.S.”

“The hospitality industry accounts for one out of nine jobs in New York City,” Hotzler continued, “and the demand for entry-level professionals remains high. Our hospitality management degree program has an established reputation, with graduates holding managerial and leadership roles in practically every major hotel and restaurant in the city.”

The students were selected from 100 applicants. All who successfully complete the one-semester program will earn a certificate of completion from City Tech and a certificate of occupational competence from the Mexican Ministry of Education and Recreation. 

The lead faculty member is Professor Patrick O’Halloran, who teaches the program’s hospitality course. “I am thrilled that this segment of the population — the backbone of the hospitality industry in New York City — is finally getting an opportunity for upward mobility,” he says.

When he immigrated to the U.S. nine years ago, Salvador, 45, started as a dishwasher at a restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and moved up to making deliveries. He is now a busboy at another restaurant. “I found out about the program when I went to the Mexican Consulate to renew my passport,” he says. “I would love to eventually be a general manager of a restaurant. The teachers in this program are so positive that we feel we can do whatever we set our minds to do.”

Adriana, 31, worked in restaurants as a waitress before immigrating to the U.S. ten years ago from Mexico City. Her mother and brother now own a restaurant in lower Manhattan, where she started working four years ago as night manager.

What she lacked was confidence. “I was always afraid to go to college; I felt insecure about being an immigrant,” she says. “But since the first week of this program, I have learned skills that have helped me on the job and my confidence has grown. I feel I am better at dealing with both customers and the kitchen staff.

“Professor Halloran tells us that if we think we can do something, we will be able to do it,” she continues. “I now believe that and it shows in my work.” She has set her sights on eventually running her own restaurant. But first she plans to continue on at City Tech for her hospitality management degree.

While the program does not carry academic credit, students like Salvador and Adriana who eventually enter City Tech’s associate or baccalaureate program in hospitality management will receive advanced placement into the College’s associate or baccalaureate programs.
In addition, the students receive English language instruction from Professor Doug Montgomery and mathematics instruction from Professor Anna Zetlin. The English and mathematics instruction uses the field of hospitality as a context for instruction. Students also receive admissions and financial aid advice as well as career placement.

“The money and time that everyone has invested in this project has been very worthwhile,” O’Halloran adds. “The students are gaining the knowledge and confidence they need to ensure that doors will open for them.”

Among those on hand to launch the new program were, above, left to right: The Honorable Alonso Lujambio Irazabál, Secretary of Public Education of the United Mexican States; The Honorable Rubén Guerrero Beltrán, Consul General of Mexico in New York; and City Tech President Russell K. Hotzler.
Below, CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Jay Hershenson with The Honorable Rubén Guerrero Beltrán. Photo credit: André Beckles.

The Mexican Consulate helped to recruit applicants through a range of community-based cultural organizations and industry groups. Selection criteria included a high school diploma earned either here or in Mexico, performance on the BEST-Plus English test, a writing sample, a mathematics test and a group interview.  Plus, all participants must have had some work experience in the hospitality industry.

City Tech’s Chuck Hoffman, director of workforce development, and Joan Manes, director of English language learning, are gratified by participants’ enthusiastic participation.  “I’ve never seen a more motivated and engaged group of students,” Hoffman says. 

Hopefully, the program will be there for them, too. “We are actively working to find funding to sustain what has clearly been a very successful initiative,” explains Manes.

Adriana was the only person at her family’s restaurant who applied for the program. “People were wondering how good it could be since it was free. But now, when they see how much I am getting out of this opportunity, they feel motivated to look into it.”


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