By Lynne Winter
Growing up on the island of Kaua’i, Bryson Cayaban received an early introduction to the Hawaiian tradition of treating others like ‘Ohana’ – family.
“My family is deeply involved in the hospitality and food-service industries on Kaua’i – from engineering to housekeeping,” he said. “Both of my grandfathers also worked on sugar plantations for most of their lives.”
In addition to a family history of hospitality, Cayaban’s grandparents were determined to give their children and grandchildren access to higher education. “My grandfather called education ‘the golden key’ – the key to success,” he said. “It is important for me to continue my family’s legacy of education and honor their sacrifices.”
After graduating from high school in 2013, Cayaban searched for a city on the mainland where he could attend college and build a life. Denver’s diverse population, active city life and weather proved a perfect fit for the Hawaii native. Originally a political-science major at the University of Colorado Denver, Cayaban got involved in student government, which gave him the chance to plan events around campus.
“My interest in hospitality was becoming an undeniable passion,” he said. “I even started working in guest services at a private country club when I returned home on break.”
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During a trip home for Thanksgiving break in 2015, Cayaban spent time considering the possibility of turning his passion into a career. After returning to Denver and meeting with Chad Gruhl, Ph.D., professor of hotel management with the School of Hospitality, Events and Tourism (HEaT), he chose to transfer to the Metropolitan State University of Denver hotel-management program the following spring.
“The School of HEaT faculty hooked me on MSU Denver,” he said. “They have years of real-world experience to share, and they want you to succeed.”
Two years later, talking to a classmate about their experience as a Dimond Fellow alerted Cayaban to an unexpected opportunity. He had enough credits to graduate in December 2018, and his family was flying from Kaua’i to join him, but he was tempted to apply for the Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program.
In 2014, a generous gift made by Rita and Navin Dimond – founders of Stonebridge Companies, a Denver-based, privately owned, innovative hotel owner, operator and developer – established the Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program. The program allows recipients to gain hands-on experience at select Stonebridge Companies properties across Denver. The Dimond Fellows Program accepts students twice a year, selecting among applicants who have completed a minimum of 60 credits toward any School of HEaT degree program.
With a fast-approaching deadline, Cayaban quickly completed the application. “I was not confident I’d be selected,” he said, “but a voice in the back of my mind told me to apply.”
While waiting to learn his fellowship fate, Cayaban continued his daily routine of attending classes, followed by walking to his job in guest services at the Four Seasons Hotel Denver. Right before graduation he was invited to become a Dimond Fellow. Acceptance meant taking one more class and staying at MSU Denver for an additional semester.
“It was a personal decision to extend my academic program,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t done.”
As planned, Cayaban’s family joined him in December to watch him achieve his dream of earning his degree – five years after dropping him off at a dorm room over 3,000 miles from home.
“I was proud to bring my family to MSU Denver,” he said. “They were in awe of Commencement and President (Janine) Davidson’s speech, and amazed by my fellowship site and the HLC facilities.”
That spring, Cayaban began his fellowship at Stonebridge Companies’ Renaissance Hotel – Denver Downtown City Center, housed in Denver’s historic Colorado National Bank building. Stonebridge Companies purchased the space, which had been slated for demolition, in 2011 and renovated it in a way that honors the history and architecture of the original building – keeping murals from 1925 in the lobby and bank vaults in meeting spaces.
“Every Stonebridge Companies property is unique,” Cayaban said. “The Dimonds do an amazing job of honoring the past while building the future.”
The fellowship taught Cayaban how to run a successful hotel. He built relationships with hotel staff and came to understand the ins and outs of the hotel’s major departments – including engineering, housekeeping, guest services, marketing, operations and more.
“It is a privilege to provide guests with a sense of home while they are away,” he said. “In Hawaii, we refer to that as ‘ohana.’ Ohana means family.”
With his fellowship complete, Cayaban continues to work at the Four Seasons, with plans to attend graduate school. He is proud to have been able to connect his family’s commitment to education with the missions of MSU Denver and Stonebridge Companies.
“When I got to Denver, I was all alone – I am grateful for the warm welcome I received,” he said. “The cherry on top was my Stonebridge experience. I will always be an ambassador for my MSU Denver and Stonebridge families.”
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