By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
The hospitality management program at Grand Canyon University has reached an even higher level of trust in students. Only this time it has gone all the way to the top.
For the first time, the GCU Hotel and Canyon 49 Grill have a student general manager, senior Karen Madlock of Prescott. Her job is managing the other student administrators – Executive, Catering, Analytics and Social Media. But her main role is to operate just like General Manager Brett Cortright, and that’s a learning experience that the classroom, though important, can’t match.
“This admin track, which really puts a lot of our success in our students, really has been a home run for us,” Cortright said. “There’s no holding back. There’s no manual for how to do this. But I think that’s one thing we’ve done really well – we’ve put our students in key positions where they’re making key decisions, and they get to see how they play out.”
Earlier this year, the holiday buffets were changed to menus with individual plated items. It was entirely the students’ idea, and Cortright put the onus on them to execute the new plan.
“Our biggest head-on challenge,” Madlock said.
There was an employee pool party this spring, and students played the primary roles in organizing it and then staging it – everything from the food to the water yoga to the movie that was shown poolside.
“That is the kind of thing where in the past I would have come in totally stressed out just trying to make it fun,” Cortright said. “Instead, I got to just come have fun.”
And when hospitality students return in August for the new academic year, guess who will put together the welcome-back party? Yep, the students, with Madlock leading the way. But her responsibilities won’t stop there. Hardly.
“I really love character development,” she said. “With student workers, we have a new wave every semester. It’s been a lot of fun taking them underneath my wing, walking them through and helping them feel confident in their positions.”
Madlock can teach them so effectively because she has done every job at the Hotel and Grill so effectively – housekeeping, laundry, bellhop, server, back office, you name it.
Cortright said an interview process wasn’t necessary to choose his first student GM; all of the student admins last spring agreed that Madlock was the obvious choice. Listen to her talk about her goals, and you can see why.
“I really enjoy the idea of basing this position off of servant leadership,” she said. “I’m just here as a resource for admins to make sure that they are able to get their jobs done as efficiently and effortlessly as possible.
“One thing that’s awesome about this place is that you really do get amazing hands-on positions. Our staff and admins, they get to conduct interviews with our other student workers. It’s real-life stuff. That can be kind of intimidating when you first walk into it. I want to take away that uneasiness for our staff so they can grow and mature.”
Cortright bases everything he does on the famous Ritz-Carlton motto, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” It puts employees on the same level as guests, and he makes sure students feel empowered – but also wants them to know they need to be educated.
“These students are serious about learning this stuff, but they’re also still learning this stuff,” he said. “There is a very, very fine line you have to walk – pushing and motivating and making them understand that this is an intense industry full of passionate people who don’t care about their feelings, but you still need to care about their feelings and guide them through the process.
“One of the things that Karen has taken off my plate and that she will continue to take off my plate is to be that buffer and to make sure these messages are delivered in a way that they’re digestible and they’re positive and they’re understood. I don’t know if there’s anything that could be more important when we’re talking about developing these students into their career. That piece, right there, is so critical. You can have all the great desire and passion in the world and walk out and bite somebody’s head off and they will do nothing for you, and then you’ve just lost an opportunity.”
Madlock is learning that skill this summer as she ramps up in her new role. Because she plans to graduate in December and isn’t sure she will continue in her role beyond then, she wants to teach a potential replacement.
“My goal is that the next ‘me’ is way better because of the help that I’ve given them,” she said. “I love my admins so much, and I see so much potential in them. I can’t wait to see what they can do next.”
Cortright can’t wait, either.
“I mimicked the student GM position after my role,” he said. “Really, the student GM job is to be a gauge for the different admins on that admin track and to make sure they’re lining up people to replace them, that they’re in their job and that they’re productive.
“Essentially, what we’re focusing on this coming semester is those different positions and really leading those positions.”
That’s what next-level thinking is all about.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].