Fritz Knoebel students recently helped package food at the Women’s Bean Project in Denver
Professional mentorship can be the key that unlocks the door to unlimited career potential, but finding that perfect mentor can be a struggle.
As it guides the next generation of industry leaders, the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management is making it simple for students to find mentors, connect with them and prepare for their respective careers.
For the last 14 years, Fritz Knoebel students have joined the school’s Ann and David Hoffman Learning By Example, Attaining Distinction (LEAD) Mentorship Program to connect with peers and professionals, build important relationships and gain hands-on experiences.
In April, student volunteers, Fritz Knoebel staff and one LEAD mentor embarked on a new opportunity to grow and positively impact the local community. Inside Denver’s nonprofit Women’s Bean Project, the Fritz team helped chronically unemployed women package soup kits, baked goods and spices, which stock the shelves at more than 1,000 retailers.
Then-student Marco Canclini (BSBA 2023) leapt at the chance to participate. Having grown up in a small community, volunteering has been a crucial element in his life.
“Volunteering is something I want to continue to instill in my life and in the place I plan to work in the future,” he said. “I enjoy giving back to my community and find it satisfying to listen to the wisdom I have learned from others throughout the years.”
The Women’s Bean Project was founded in 1989 and provides transitional employment to women in the nonprofit’s food production area. After a maximum of six months of classes (like job coaching, life skills and interview prep), professional development and work experience, 90% of the temporary workers gain full-time employment.
The local organization recently transformed a 20,000-square-foot used car dealership into its current headquarters, offering community space, a computer lab, meeting rooms, food production and much more.
Kaycee Jones, an engagement coordinator at the Women’s Bean Project, said the nonprofit has employed over 1,000 women since its inception, and hopes to employ 100 more this year.
LEAD mentors are frequently invited to take part in on- and off-campus service events, displaying the importance of community involvement to their student mentees. Amanda Parsons, general manager of the Thompson Hotel Denver and a LEAD mentor, joined four Fritz Knoebel students to volunteer at the Women’s Bean Project in April.
As part of LEAD, Fritz Knoebel students are matched with a professional mentor to help guide them through their hospitality journey. Mentors and mentees are matched for one year based on a questionnaire and “speed dating” event. Students are then matched with a new mentor the following year.
Stephanie Van Cleve-DeHerrera, associate director of hospitality career services at Fritz Knoebel, said the LEAD Mentorship Program provides an ideal setting for ambitious students to prepare for their careers.
“It’s a volunteer program, but it’s a huge professional opportunity for the students,” she said. About three-quarters of Fritz Knoebel students take part in the mentorship offering.
The off-campus service opportunities drive home the importance of partnerships. Canclini says the lasting community impact of the Women’s Bean Project visit will stick with him.
“I learned about the perseverance that each and every woman had to begin working for the Women’s Bean Project,” he said. “Furthermore, understanding every individual’s gratitude to the program and how it has changed their lives was incredible to hear about.”