By Lynne Winter
As Allison Poeling prepared to graduate from Faith Christian High School in 2016, she thought her future had been sorted: She planned to follow her passion for food to culinary school, cook her way to a rewarding career and live happily ever after.
“I loved culinary school, but I missed having face-to-face interactions with people,” Poeling said of her freshman year at Johnson and Wales University. “Long-term, I knew it wouldn’t work for me.”
Unsure of what direction to take, Poeling took a break from college and applied to the Disney College Program at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida. The national internship program provides opportunities for college students to gain on-the-job experience working in the parks and resorts, develop job skills and take part in professional development. It felt like a good fit for someone from a Disney-loving family.
It wasn’t long before Poeling’s hard work in housekeeping at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club deluxe resorts was recognized by her supervisor and hotel management.
“The first couple of months were a lot of work – I was cleaning rooms and flipping mattresses,” she said. “Once I got to work more closely with the housekeeping executives, I discovered I loved ‘making the magic’ for hotel guests and working for a luxury brand that sets the standard for ensuring every single person has a special experience.”
After 9 months at Disney World, Poeling returned to Colorado with a renewed focus. She wanted to apply for a job at the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver (at the suggestion of her Disney supervisor) and reenroll at Johnson and Wales to study hotel management. Once again, her goals were hindered – this time, by finances.
“When I first started (at Johnson and Wales), I had scholarships to cover more than half of my tuition,” she said. “Because I was at Disney for so long, I lost those scholarships, and it was too expensive to continue.”
Things started looking up when the Four Seasons Hotel Denver hired Poeling and she began pursuing a degree in Hotel Management in the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan State University of Denver. For two years, it was smooth sailing. Poeling attended classes and spent her working hours making those magic moments for hotel guests. Then, in March 2020, the pandemic hit; the hotel laid off staff and shut down for full renovations.
“I was 22 years old and laid off,” Poeling said. “Here I was, again, in the same spot as before with my plans getting messed up.”
The “perfect opportunity” to get back into the field she loves was presented to Poeling when she was selected as one of two spring 2021 recipients accepted into the Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program.
In 2014, the Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program was established with a generous gift made by Rita and Navin Dimond – founders of Stonebridge Cos., a Denver-based, privately owned, innovative hotel-development and hospitality-management company. The fellowship accepts MSU Denver School of Hospitality students twice a year, allowing recipients to gain hands-on experience at select Stonebridge Cos. properties in the Denver area to prepare them to become the hospitality-industry leaders of tomorrow.
Poeling says her fellowship at the Renaissance Denver – Downtown City Center Hotel has allowed her to learn a little bit about what it takes to run each of the hotel’s central departments, including sales, accounting, engineering and housekeeping. Located within the beautiful and historic former Colorado National Bank Building in the heart of downtown Denver, the hotel is known for its lobby adorned with murals dating to 1925 and meeting spaces within former bank vaults.
As part of the fellowship, Poeling worked directly with hotel General Manager Brian Leiker, who took her under his wing to show her how the lessons she is learning in the classroom apply to a career in hotel management.
“We can learn about hotel revenue or how room rates are set (in the classroom), but he shows me what it’s like in the real world,” she said. “His insight has been invaluable.”
With graduation near, Poeling is optimistic. She says her “top, top dream job” would be to become the holiday director at Disney World, who is responsible for decorating the parks for each holiday. Whatever comes her way, she will be ready.
“I thought I had a whole plan, but it didn’t work out,” she said. “Now, I’m OK with just seeing what happens.”
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