By Matt Watson
When Navin Dimond, founder and CEO of Stonebridge Cos., started a paid internship program for hospitality students at Metropolitan State University of Denver, it wasn’t because he attended the University. It was because he saw a lot of students who looked like him.
“This institution serves a lot of first-generation students, who are less likely to go to college, let alone finish college. It resonated with me, because that was me,” he said.
The Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program places MSU Denver students in Stonebridge Cos. hotels for a high-level training experience tailored to the interests of each student, many of whom receive employment opportunities after the fellowship.
“We can play more of a role than giving money. We can provide a deeper experience for the students through paid internships and potential future employment opportunities,” Dimond said.
Since the Dimonds established the fellowship in 2014 through a generous gift to MSU Denver’s Hospitality, Tourism and Events Department, 32 Roadrunners have earned invaluable industry experience at Stonebridge’s properties, and many have gone on to work for the company.
Risa Herrema, group sales manager at Stonebridge’s Hilton Garden Inn Denver Downtown, landed a position at the company right after completing the fellowship and was promoted within a year. She credits MSU Denver for helping find and develop career opportunities for students.
“MSU Denver really invests in students to help them throughout school and then after graduation to help place them in a good job,” she said.
Joe Boss, director of food and beverage at Stonebridge’s Hilton Garden Inn Denver/Cherry Creek, intended to take only core classes at MSU Denver, but once the Hospitality Learning Center opened, it drew him in.
“MSU Denver works really hard to get you ready for the outside world. It’s a great hospitality program,” Boss said. “The Dimond Fellowship really gives you hands-on experience, and from that I got a job offer to come work for Stonebridge Cos.”
Jazmaray Martinez was recently named the Elite Fellow of the spring 2018 class, which includes Sara Martin and Berkeley “Dawn” Everett.
Like Dimond, Martinez is a first-generation college student who worked hard to get where she is today. She worked at the Dazbog coffee shop on the Auraria Campus for a year before enrolling at MSU Denver. She credits her family values for her interest in hospitality and her drive to get a degree.
“I will be the first grandkid to graduate college out of about 26 grandchildren. I’m not the oldest – my other cousins took a different route from me – but I think I’m making my family proud, for sure,” said Martinez, an events and meeting management major with hotel management minor, planning to graduate in December.
Martinez also works as an event programmer for the Office of Student Activities and was awarded the Karen Raforth Scholarship, given to an outstanding student employee who works within Student Engagement and Wellness at MSU Denver. She hopes to continue working part-time at a Stonebridge hotel until she finishes school.
After Martinez won the Elite Fellow Award, she was promised a small dinner with the Dimonds and other Stonebridge Cos. staff. When she showed up at the venue, several members of her family were there to surprise her.
“There were about 70 people from Stonebridge, plus they gave my family a 10-person limit. … That’s almost impossible, but they did pretty good,” said Martinez, who congregates with her 24 cousins almost every Sunday at her grandmother’s house in Five Points. “My grandma didn’t get to attend my high school graduation because she was working, so this was like that ‘wow’ moment to see that her granddaughter is doing well.”
For Navin and Rita Dimond, it’s obvious that moments like these are why they created and are actively engaged in the fellowship program.
“It’s about you, the student. It’s not about us,” Dimond said.
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