Students at North County High School learned an important lesson in the kitchen of a Hilton hotel: When preparing 250 dessert plates for a wedding reception, keep it simple.
The sophomores and juniors grabbed containers of red, white and blue icing to frame the plates for cheesecake wedges. The teens who used only two colors formed delicate swirls with toothpicks. Those who used all three made more of a smear.
"You don't want to be in the kitchen forever," said Steve Kaiser, general manager of the Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport Hotel.
His message about fun, creativity and hard work behind the scenes at a busy hotel resounded with the students then and throughout the first annual Hospitality Career Connections Day on Tuesday. Twenty of the 28 students at North County High's Academy of Hospitality and Tourism attended the event.
Nick Cook, a sophomore at the school in Glen Burnie, said the hospitality industry appealed to him because he wants to work with people, but he was surprised by the level of detail that goes into making a guest's stay comfortable.
"I always thought it was a lot less work," Cook said. "I see how many people are working and how much they have to do each day."
The day dovetailed nicely with the high school's plans to boost membership in the academy after several years of decline, said Joyce Coleman, a Career Connections facilitator at North County High. Students in the academy take marketing and business courses in their sophomore and junior years. In their senior year, they do an internship and take a college-level course.
"We're rebuilding the program," she said. "This program has so many opportunities for so many kids."
The idea for the day came from the Hotel Advisory Board, which advises the curriculum for the Hospitality Culinary Arts Tourism Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. The board put together the program to help students see what kinds of careers are open to them, said Jodi Blankenship, associate director of sales for the Hilton and a member of the board.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools has career academies at several schools that focus on different disciplines, such as finance and technology. North County High School is perfect for the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism because of its location in the hotel district that caters to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Coleman said.
Deborah Albert, a county teacher specialist who works with improving career education, said the county ultimately would like to do the hotel tour with the finance and technology academies to show students how their disciplines can be applied in the hospitality field.
Tishuana Hodge, human resources director at the Hilton, escorted small groups throughout the hotel. She led the students through the Aqua restaurant, pointing out its Chesapeake Bay-inspired menu and its curved ceiling meant to resemble waves. Then she pointed out kiosks where travelers could check in at the airport automatically.
The students seemed more impressed by the large-scale laundry operation, where hundreds of sheets and towels are cleaned, pressed and fed into automatic folding machines. Hodge then took the students to the $799-a-night presidential suite - two luxury rooms joined by a large conference room and kitchen. The students divided into teams and competed against each other to see who could make the beds the fastest.
The students said they learned a lot from the tour.
"I think it made people realize the difficulty to it, that it's not just checking people in and out," said Amanda Young, a sophomore in the academy program. She said she is leaning toward a career in travel journalism, where she could critique the industry.
Jaime Cory, a junior who works part-time as a host at a restaurant, took pictures throughout the tour. She has been researching a career in hotel management for a project in one of her classes.
"This tour definitely gave me better insight into what I want to do," she said.