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York College and The Yorktowne Hotel Build on a Historic Connection

December 20, 2022
Zach Whelan, Hospitality Management student pictured in the Yorktowne Hotel.

Shortly after The Yorktowne Hotel closed for renovations, Dr. John Hughes, then York College Dean of the School of the Arts, Communication and Global Studies, saw an opportunity to incorporate more project-based learning into the school’s curriculum.

The historic hotel presented the perfect beginning opportunity for the endeavor. In 2018, York College offered its first class in which students worked on a project for the Hotel.

Over the last four years, dozens of students in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Marketing majors have taken project-based learning classes and worked on projects for The Yorktowne. York College partnered with the York County Economic Alliance (YCEA) and the York County Industrial Development Authority (YCIDA) to create learning opportunities.

“I emphasize in this class that it’s not just the product that’s important,” says Dr. Fred Becker, Chair of the Department of Hospitality Management. “It’s the process–how you work as a team, communicate with the sponsor, manage your time, and the resources that you access.”

Students have helped conceptualize grand-opening events, created a visitors’ guide, brainstormed how to encourage businesses to fill the Hotel’s retail space, and developed an employee recruiting event.

“The most rewarding thing for me,” says Dr. Becker, “is to see the students grow in terms of their ability to engage in project-based learning.”

The coronavirus pandemic, as well as construction and supply chain issues, have delayed the reopening of the Hotel but helped students step into their own as leaders in project-based learning initiatives. Students have taken responsibility not only for the projects, but for the relationships with the project sponsors. The expansion of video-based meetings and the use of technology to build those relationships has helped students build confidence and lead the sponsor meetings.

“To see them turn that corner has been very gratifying,” Dr. Becker says. “These are real projects; this is a real hotel. It brings the content to life for the students. They take it very seriously and it sets the bar really high in terms of expectations and performance.”

Employment opportunities

As the Hotel nears its fall 2022 opening, and the day-to-day projects move from the YCEA’s and YCIDA’s plate to that of GF Management, the Hotel’s new operator, Dr. Becker expects the project-based classes could shift focus and open doors for internships and employment opportunities for York College students across various disciplines.

“It’s an exciting time to go through that transition and explore what GF Management wants us to do,” he says.

One of The Yorktowne’s first hires is Greta Miller ’22, who directs Human Resources and Administrative Support. Miller attended York College as a Hospitality Management major with a minor in Spanish.

With a long family history of hospitality excellence―her mom is in the cruise industry and her dad has over 40 years in the hospitality sector―Miller came to York College with a clear vision to be the best in the world of hospitality. She knew what she was looking for in a Hospitality Management program, and she found it at York College.

On her way to her first tour of the College, Miller drove past The Yorktowne. She knew that York College had started a project-based learning partnership with the Hotel and was excited that she could be a part of it.

“The idea of having something like that at York College is incredibly valuable,” she says. “The Yorktowne Hotel will be a pillar for the community.”

During her time at York College, Miller helped plan events for the Hotel’s opening gala and developed ideas for catering to the diverse population of potential employees and individuals in communities surrounding the Hotel. She and fellow students discussed how to make everyone feel included, whether looking for a job, spending the night, or stopping in for a meal.

Putting her education to work

Those experiences would translate directly to Miller’s position at The Yorktowne. She spends her days screening job applicants, introducing them to management roles, and building   community relationships. She has connected with Crispus Attucks York, a nonprofit that provides education and human services, and the YCEA to offer free hospitality training in English and Spanish. She’ll also arrange housekeeping training.

As a York resident, Miller is excited about walking to work and seeing new opportunities emerge in her own backyard.

“I’m just so grateful that I came to York and that everything lined up as it did,” she says.

A time for new celebrations

Another early hire is Keighla Fetty ’12, the hotel’s Director of Catering. When Fetty came to York College in 2008, the Hospitality and Tourism Management major didn’t exist. She chose Recreation and Leisure, where a “Special Event” class sparked her interest in hospitality.

After graduating, Fetty took her newfound interest with her to an internship with Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, which the College arranged. The internship turned into a decade-long full-time job in which Fetty’s duties included working in the front office at Hershey Lodge and serving as Catering Manager at the Hershey Country Club.

Despite this, Fetty long had hoped to work for The Yorktowne Hotel. When the opportunity arose in July 2022, she jumped at it.

As Director of Catering, Fetty details events, arranges banquet sales, and sets up menus for her catering clients. She credits York College with helping her connect with the right people and providing the hands-on opportunities and experiences that prepared her for this role.

“I’m excited to start hosting events,” she says.

When the hotel celebrates its Grand Opening Gala in December, Fetty, Miller, and the entire Yorktowne team will help usher in a new era in the 50-plus-year relationship between The Yorktowne and York College. 

Half a century of history

Throughout the decades, The Yorktowne Hotel has been York College’s go-to destination for holiday formal parties, reunions, alumni gatherings, and faculty celebrations. From a 1960 York Junior College (York College of Pennsylvania’s predecessor institution) holiday formal to a 1979 alumni Monte Carlo night; and a 1984 alumni weekend to a 1992 Grand Reunion, York College students, faculty, and alumni found a place to connect and create memories.

In 1968, the year that York Junior College became the now four-year York College of Pennsylvania, The Yorktowne Hotel hosted Dr. Ray A. Miller’s Trustees’ Testimonial Dinner. Dr. Miller served as the Junior College’s final president and York College’s first president. Guests celebrated his 10 years of service to York Junior College with an evening at the historic hotel.  

Now, York College and The Yorktowne Hotel are embracing a new era of connection and celebration.

“All of us at The Yorktowne Hotel are dedicated to the York community,” Greta Miller says, “and we can’t wait to have them back.”