Maui, the Magic Isle, has been named "Best Island in the World" 16 times by the Cond Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards poll and has also garnered the distinction of "Best Pacific Island" for 20 consecutive years.
"These distinctions make our island the perfect destination to study hospitality and tourism," said Brian T. Moto, special assistant to University of Hawai'i Maui College (UHMC) Chancellor Clyde M. Sakamoto.
"UHMC is moving forward with its vision to be a world-class college," said Moto. "Because of current and emerging education and training needs, we continue to provide innovative, high-quality programs offered in a stimulating learning environment."
Under a new J-1 Visa Student Intern Program granted to the University of Hawai‘i Maui College Hospitality and Tourism (HOST) Program, six students from Shanghai Normal University recently began their seven-month internships at Makena Beach & Golf Resort and The Westin Maui Resort & Spa. Interns (left to right) Yvonne Gu, Isabelle Yan, Jasmine Ni, Elaine Guan, Tiffany Zhang and Stacy Yuan are already absorbed in the “spirit of aloha.”
Photo: Cindy Schumacher
The Hospitality and Tourism (HOST) Program at the college is embarking on a journey that will provide a learning experience for students that is unparalleled in the State of Hawai'i. UHMC is the first Neighbor Island college campus to host a J-1 Visa Student Intern Program, which enables foreign university students to come to the U.S. to study, be exposed to American culture and receive hands-on experience in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field.
UHMC HOST faculty member Dr. Liping Liu said the college has established academic partnerships with various universities in China since 2008. "Shanghai Normal University is one of the major international partners in China," she said.
In the past three years, 10 faculty members from UHMC have taught various courses at Shanghai Normal University during summer and winter breaks. However, this semester marks the beginning of the college's international hospitality internship pilot program.
This month, six accomplished Chinese students from the Shanghai university began their seven-month internships at two major Maui resorts: Makena Beach & Golf Resort and The Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Ka'anapali.
"With our island's industry support, we are hoping to carry on with this program," Dr. Liu said.
The good news is that the HOST students at UHMC also have opportunities to work on their international internship for six to 12 months in four- and five-star hotels in Beijing and Shanghai.
Besides their fieldwork at local resorts, the students also conduct laboratory work at UHMC.
"In collaboration with our advisory committee, we have created Maui's Teaching Hotel," said UHMC HOST Program Coordinator Lorelle Peros.
This on-campus facility, which consists of several of the college's former dormitories converted into a learning lab, provides a stimulating environment that includes hands-on training for running an actual hotel. Maui resorts and hotels provide the college with hotel-type executive suites, cutting-edge technology, and green design and sustainability to showcase their brands in the new facility. "This allows students to experience hotel resort operations firsthand and to network with industry leaders," Peros said.
The learning environment, which represents Maui as a world-class destination, has attracted individuals from countries such as Japan, Philippines, China, Canada and Argentina.
"International students at UHMC have the opportunity to immerse themselves in our host culture and learn about our distinct brand of hospitality," said Peros.
"It is a great honor to be part of the first UHMC international pilot program to bring student interns to Hawai'i," said Yvonne Gu, 22, from Shanghai Normal University. "We all look forward to learning about the Hawaiian culture to obtain important job skills, as well as international understanding."
Charles Sweeney, chairman of The Landmark Hotels Group, and his son, Shawn Sweeney, general manager of Makena Beach & Golf Resort, believe in the importance of international relationships through education.
"We support all efforts to interact with Chinese tourism and are delighted to host four of the interns who will be doing their field work at the Makena Beach & Golf Resort," said Charles.
It was the elder Sweeney who gave a notable donation to UHMC in 1988 to support the development of the Visitor Industry and Training Center (VITEC), which began the following year.
Under the supervision of Dr. Laura Greenwood, former VITEC director and current director of Training and Organizational Development for The Landmark Hotels Group, the interns will work on rooms, food and beverage, human resources, and sales and marketing projects at Makena Beach & Golf Resort.
"The students will fulfill assignments at the resort to complete upper-division HOST curriculum course work under the direction of their instructor, Dr. Liu," said Dr. Greenwood.
Through an ongoing partnership with UHMC, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa also collaborated with Dr. Liu for placement of two interns at their hotel.
"We are delighted to host Tiffany Zhang and Isabelle Yan at our resort during their seven-month internship program," said Human Resource Manager Leasha Zimmerman. "As resort associates, they will be trained on the intrinsic values of hospitality while learning to deliver a distinctive Westin-branded service in the true tradition of the host culture, Hawai'i," she said.
The six interns from China all agree. "It is a blessing to be on Maui," they said. "We hope to expand our cross-cultural understanding while acquiring a unique worldwide experience. We bring 'Ni Hao' to Maui and 'Aloha' home to China."