Leadership Maryland Alumni Bring St. Mary’s County Students to National Harbor
Each year, Leadership Maryland dedicates its Southern Region Session to trends and issues impacting education across the state. Day Two of the session is traditionally hosted at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center (FCTC), which affords public high school students in St. Mary's County the opportunity to learn the information and skills used in one of twenty-four specific career areas.
“Our center has programs in nearly all areas—hospitality and tourism, nursing, automotive repair, dental assisting, engineering, and others—for students in their sophomore year or higher in St. Mary’s County,” says Bonnie Kelly, FCTC hospitality and tourism program instructor. “Leadership Maryland uses our conference center each year for their Education Day, and my students, along with the culinary students, manage the whole event from the set up and break down to the catering of lunch.”
Chris Borgal ’16, Leadership Maryland board member and assistant vice president of operations and management for the Peterson Companies, first visited FCTC as a part of Leadership Maryland’s class of 2016, and was very impressed by the professionalism of the hospitality students.
“I work for the company that’s been developing National Harbor since the beginning,” says Chris. “Because we have such a presence in the hospitality field with the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center and MGM National Harbor, I wanted to connect with Bonnie and offer any type of opportunities I could for her students.”
The connection they made that day rekindled a long-time professional relationship between FCTC and National Harbor that had recently dissipated due to staff turnover. Now Chris and his team host the students of the hospitality and tourism program each year and show them the ins and outs of every aspect of the business.
“I wanted this to be a hands-on and inclusive experience for the students,” explains Chris. “Each student has unique interests, so it was important to cover as much of the industry as possible.”
During their visit, Chris provides a grand overview of the development of National Harbor, including their vision for the future and plan to keep growing. The students also get to tour the property’s two major hotels, MGM National Harbor and the Gaylord National Resort. While at Gaylord National Resort, they are able to see all aspects of operations, including both the “front of house,” including seven outlets, nearly 2,000 guestrooms and more than 600,000 square feet of meeting and event space; and the “heart of the house,” including behind-the-scenes peeks at the kitchens, housekeeping areas, offices and more.
“The goal of this tour is to expose them to as much as possible so each student can get a feel for what role in the hospitality industry they want to play in their future,” continues Chris. “Plus, it’s an opportunity to expand their views and perceptions of Prince George’s County and see other parts of the state in a way that Leadership Maryland afforded me.”
Monroe Harrison ’18 is director of public affairs at Gaylord National Resort and had originally connected with Bonnie years ago. After visiting FCTC with his own Leadership Maryland class and seeing the passion with which the teachers spoke to their classes and how engaged the students were, he was happy to see the relationship between the school and National Harbor begin again.
“We have been working with Bonnie for more than five years, and her passion for educating young people and introducing them to the tourism industry is admirable,” says Monroe. “Gaylord National Resort always seeks the best talent and by providing tours to students we help educate them about the numerous career opportunities a property of our size has to offer. From traditional lodging positions to human resources, accounting and finance, event managers, sales and marketing, and more – we want them to see there is something for everyone to excel in.”
It is connections like this that make Leadership Maryland such a valuable resource for the community. According to Bonnie, the difference that National Harbor has made within her program is immeasurable.
“Some of my students have traveled in the past, but many may not have ever left St. Mary’s County,” says Bonnie. “We have some small hotels in the area where the students can shadow, but nothing like the expansive and diverse opportunities at National Harbor. This relationship with Chris and his team has been life-changing and really opened up new doors for my students and showed them where a career in hospitality can take them.”
“One of the biggest takeaways from my time in Leadership Maryland is the notion of how I can be significant within my community,” explains Chris. “This partnership was a very small way of having significance, particularly in a part of the state I’d never really see or touch otherwise. Without this program, I certainly wouldn’t have been in a position to offer any help at all, so I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
To learn more about National Harbor, please visit nationalharbor.com. To learn more about FCTC, please visit https://schools.smcps.org/tech/. To learn more about Leadership Maryland, please visit leadershipmd.org.