|By Arnold M. Knightly, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Apr. 2, 2007 - The William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV is working to diversify, and locals casino giant Station Casinos is offering help.
The casino company has committed $500,000 over the next five years to help lure minority students from Nevada into the program and, officials hope, into management careers with the company.
While 21 percent of the college's faculty and staff today are from diverse backgrounds, the college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is still struggling to lure certain minority groups to its program. Of the 2,500 students enrolled at the beginning of the 2006 fall semester, there were only 150 Hispanics, 94 blacks and 39 American Indians.
Stuart Mann, the hotel college's dean, said a lack of diversity among the faculty and students dismayed him when he took the job nine years ago. He has since tried to attract minorities, but he said part of the challenge in recruiting them is overcoming the stigma hotel-casino jobs hold in minority cultures.
"These kind of jobs are seen often as jobs of servitude, not service," Mann said. "They're not encouraged to go into these fields by those that are close to them. We struggle with that a lot, trying to educate them to help them understand these are wonderful careers."
Valerie Murzl, Station Casinos' vice president of human resources, said career chances will abound. With construction under way at Aliante Station, and future projects yet to be announced, Station Casinos will need to hire approximately 500 managers in the next four years.
Large forthcoming casino projects will create more casino career chances for students beyond the ones Station has to offer, Murzl said, and UNLV will be a logical place to find them. MGM Mirage will need managers for the under-construction Project CityCenter; Boyd Gaming Corp. will need managers for its Echelon.
"If you're a high school kid right now in this town, you know that all these different companies are building," Murzl said. "If you were smart, go to UNLV, get a business degree or something with a road into the industry and you'll have a guaranteed opportunity. You're almost guaranteed someone is going to hire you."
Station will donate $100,000 each year, which will be distributed between the Station Casinos Scholarship Fund and the Station Casinos Minority Student Recruitment Fund. Starting this fall, 12 entering freshmen from local high schools will be awarded a $5,500 scholarship to pay for tuition, books and other expenses for the year.
The hotel college will use the remaining $33,400 to help recruit and keep minority students.
Even though the scholarship for high school students is open to everyone, minority applicants get priority. The recipients will have to maintain a 3.0 grade point average and must major in hotel administration, gaming management or culinary arts management to remain eligible to reapply for the scholarship the following year.
Approximately 35 students have applied. The first recipients are scheduled to be announced in June.
Michelle Jordan, diversity coordinator for the hotel college, said the initial recipients for the scholarships will be picked from a pool of six local high schools with high minority populations. The schools are Valley, Desert Pines, Canyon Springs, Mojave, Cheyenne and Eldorado high schools. Two students will be selected from each.
The scholarship is the brainchild of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frank Fertitta III.
Murzl said she worked with him to develop the scholarship so it could best address the company's goals.
"As we continue to grow at Station Casinos we need some very strong management candidates," Murzl said. "What better way to do it than partner with a local university?"
Murzl said it was also important to Fertitta that the scholarship not be from a faceless gaming company. He wanted recipients to be able to interact with managers and executives from the company.
"Anytime you have the opportunity to have a relationship with a seasoned executive that's valuable," Murzl said. "Even if you don't come work at Station Casinos you're still learning and observing. The good thing about this program that we saw is that we could actually establish a relationship with the students while they were going through school and somewhat become their mentors."
Murzl said that when she visits universities around the country, students she talks to are surprised to learn about the casino company and the career opportunities available not only in gaming and hotel but finance, law, information technology and marketing.
Jordan said that the hotel college gives presentations every semester to area high schools to promote the college and available financial aid options.
She said there are now six scholarships geared toward minorities.
Station Casinos joins MGM Mirage, Harrah's Entertainment, Boyd Gaming Corp. in donating money to the college.
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