COD’s hotel provides hands-on learning for hospitality students

Emily Lorenz, Staff Writer

College of DuPage is the only community college in the country that has a hotel lab for its hospitality student where the school is the one who owns the hotel. Many larger institutions such as Michigan State and Purdue have similar programs but with major chain hotels being the owners. The workers at the other institutions are not professors like at COD and are just normal hotel workers.

Founded in October 2011, the Inn at Water’s Edge is College of DuPage’s first and only hotel. The hotel was started as a way for hospitality students to learn more about hotels and gain real life experience from it.

Designed as a lab in the Culinary & Hospitality Center (CHC), the hotel features six rooms for guests to stay in. Each runs around $135 a night, not much higher than the average nightly room price in DuPage county.

All employees of the hotel are either graduates of the hospitality program at COD or are currently enrolled and interning at the hotel. The graduate workers act as teachers for the hospitality students, showing them every aspect of the business and teaching them the ins and outs of every detail in the business.

Before the CHC was built, hospitality students were taught in the Student Resource Center (SRC). According to Mary Beth Leone, hospitality management professor, it was a one room, non-functional area that was not used for much more than describing theoretical situations. The professors felt this wasn’t the best way to teach students how a real hotel works and what real life would look like.

“When building the CHC we thought about what could we do to give the hospitality students a lab,” Leone said. “[The SRC space] was something where we could only show what to do, but it never worked. It wasn’t functioning, and it wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t what we needed to teach our students. So when the CHC was being built we proposed a six-room hotel that students could learn in. That’s the primary reason its there and that’s our sole focus.”

With a 60-65% occupancy rate, the hotel is a self-sustaining business that gives students the opportunities to learn everything about the hotel business. From cleaning rooms and checking in guests to making sure each guest feels at home, it is a hands on experience for each hospitality student.

Many guests of the hotel are visitors staying in town to spend time in the surrounding areas. Some parents of students at local colleges spend the night while companies and even bridal parties rent out all six rooms for events in the area. The reasons many guests choose the hotel is the proximity to malls and other activities in the Glen Ellyn area. One review on, an online source for finding and viewing hotel ratings and guests experiences, was one from an out of state client who gave his stay five out of five in all categories of the review.

“The Inn at Water’s Edge in Glen Ellyn…was beautiful, quiet, comfortable, clean and very well managed,” said the guest reviewer. “Without a moment’s hesitation, we strongly recommend it to anyone who wants a unique experience. Everything about the place is top quality and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful and polite.”

Becky Singer, hospitality student and current intern at the Inn at Water’s Edge, feels that the experience she’s gaining from her teachers is not only beneficial now, but will be beneficial to her in the future.

“I personally love it,” Singer said. “I think it’s a fabulous idea as opposed to going to school and learning something and going out with no real life experience or ideas to what you’re really going to do with it. It’s so much better. Now I know how to check people in and check people out. I know how to clean rooms, I know how to work the systems on the computer so when I’m done and am ready to work elsewhere, I will need a lot less training than the typical person walking in.”

Rated five out of five stars on TripAdvisor, the hotel is something that the hospitality department feels is invaluable to not only the students but to the Inn’s repeating customers.

“Of course we want to make sure the guests have a great experience, but that’s because that will enhance the students learning,” Leone said. “The [students] learn how to give that guest great service in a secure safe environment with faculty and with staff.”