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Students Run the Show at MSU Denver's New Teaching Hotel

The lobby of SpringHill Suites by Marriott Denver Downtown at Metro State.

Students and interns are supervised by hotel employees.

Students in a wine and food pairing class at MSU.

Students in the Food Production and Service 2 class.

The Cellar Management Laboratory.

A view of downtown Denver.

Students set the tables during the Food Production and Service 2 class.

Denver is now home to the state's only teaching hotel in the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Denver Downtown at Metro State. One of only eleven teaching hotels in the country, the state-of-the-art facility includes a unique natural light sensory analysis laboratory, cellar management laboratory and classroom, and the hotel itself is adorned with artwork by students and alumni of the school. 
The fact that the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Denver Downtown at Metro State has a fantastic view of the city's skyline distinguishes the mightily monikered, LEED-certified building immediately. But the view is not the only thing that sets the new teaching hotel apart from the competition.
 
Located on the edge of the Auraria campus, this new teaching hotel is the first of its kind on Colorado and one of only eleven campus-based teaching hotels in the country. 

Students and interns are supervised by hotel employees.Hospitality Hub
 
"Denver happens to be the hospitality education hub of the West, really," says Chad M. Gruhl, department chair and Associate Professor of the Metropolitan State University of Denver's Hospitality, Tourism and Events Management
 
Gruhl says that the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver ("The Cornell of the West," touts Gruhl) and the Johnson & Wales University's Hospitality College both differ from the program and facilities at Metropolitan State University.

"Our students are very specifically operations folks," he says. "Nobody else really has anything like this west of the Mississippi."
 
Open since August 2012, the SpringHill Suites Downtown Denver has 150 guest suites as well as 5,000-square feet of meeting space and 30,000 square feet for the academic space. The hotel is managed by Sage Hospitality, a Denver-based hotel management company. "In about two years, we will have an actual course where the students will actually be running the
"Our students are very specifically operations folks," says Chad Gruhl of MSU Denver's hospitality department. "Nobody else really has anything like this west of the Mississippi."
hotel," says Gruhl. A general manager will always be at the hotel, he adds.
 
For anyone wondering why there is an outside management company, Gruhl said this program is similar to one at the University of Delaware. "We, as academics, don't have the time," he says with a laugh. "They handle the operations. We are not doing the hiring or firing of students or staff."
 
The goal is that by end of this year 80 percent of the hotel staff will be made up of students in the program, which is currently at 30 percent, says Gruhl.
 
So Much More than a Hotel
 
It cost $45 million to build the Hospitality and Learning Center which is new to the school's hospitality program which has been around for 35 years. In addition to the food lab, culinary demonstration theater, computer lab, sensory analysis lab, and cellar management classroom, there is a 72-seat student-run restaurant and mixology lab. 
 
"It's an incredible institution," says Gruhl of Metro State. "It's one of the most progressive institutions I've ever been apart of. They are not afraid of risk. Our president and board of trustees are willing step out there to be one of best in the country." Gruhl previously worked at the Trump Plaza Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and taught at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. Students in the Food Production and Service 2 class.
 
The value of having students work where they learn, rather than go to work while going to school is in the benefit of on site supervision.

"I know what's going on in hotel and I am down there three to four times a day," says Gruhl. "I see what they are learning. It I am sending a student downtown [to work in a hotel] I can't walk into a hotel and see what's happening. This is experiential learning -- the housekeeping class has the classroom right in the housekeeping department. We can show them from theoretical and textbook right into that facility."

In addition, the school is adding people in hotel management to their teaching staff as another way to blend the real and theoretical worlds of hospitality. 
 
During a tour of the Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center, Gruhl is like Willy Wonka showing off his chocolate factory,
"I know what's going on in hotel and I am down there three to four times a day," says MSU Denver's Chad Gruhl. "I see what they are learning. It I am sending a student downtown to work in a hotel I can't walk in and see what's happening. This is experiential learning."
speaking with an infectious glee that is backed up by his in-depth knowledge of every aspect of the place. 
 
He seems most excited when he brings visitors to the Natural Light Sensory Analysis Laboratory, which he says is the only one of its kind designed around both natural and simulated sunlight. The concept is to heighten the experience of tasting food and beverages without any conflicting aromas, light or sound thanks to an isolated HVAC. Just down the hall is the Cellar Management Laboratory with an impressive 3,100-bottle wine storage cellar that can be viewed through a glass wall in the classroom. 
 
Another unique aspect to the SpringHill Suites Downtown Denver is how it manages to highlight other campus schools. Throughout the Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver -- both in the lobby, the suites, the academic hallways, and meeting spaces -- there are works of art made by faculty, students and alumni of the school's art department. The range of artwork on display includes photographs, paintings, ceramics, and mixed media.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn

Read more articles by Mindy Sink.

Mindy is a freelance writer and author of Walking DenverMoon Handbooks Guide to Denver and co-author of Colorado Organic: Cooking Seasonally, Eating Locally
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