Every summer, the Young Executive Scholars Hospitality & Tourism Program introduces students from underfunded high schools to the career opportunities available to them in the hospitality industry.
Using project-based learning, outings to the Las Vegas Strip, and mentoring sessions, students are exposed to a variety of careers in entertainment engineering, hospitality marketing and finance, and executive-level leadership roles. Because of its rigorous nature, planning for the International Gaming Institute program is typically a year-long endeavor.
But in mid-March as casinos temporarily shuttered their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, the four-year-old program's creators had to pivot from their original plans and adapt to a radically different Las Vegas landscape.
“We had to completely overhaul [the program]," Young Executive Scholars creator Shekinah Hoffman said. "Mostly it was about, ‘How can we streamline a month's worth of content into five 10 to 15 minute weekly videos?’ That was the most challenging part. We had to create a syllabus, film and edit the videos, create weekly assignments, and create the online classroom.”
Working on a condensed timeline, Hoffman, a special project coordinator with the gaming institute, often asked herself, “What are the essentials? What are the most beneficial lessons we can teach that will help students with their projects and their overall success in the class?"
Along with her colleague Itzel Alanis, Hoffman focused on the core lessons: leadership, teamwork, Las Vegas history, business, and community. Remote instruction allowed for speakers who might not have been able to attend the program in person to mentor students online. This year’s lineup of guest speakers included Las Vegas Raiders fullback Alec Ingold, and esports player Johnathan Wendel, known online to many as Fatal1ty.
During UNLV's second summer session, 10 teenagers from five high schools across the valley earned their very first college credits, paid for entirely by scholarships, from the comfort of their homes.
Allison Guevara, now a senior at West Prep Academy in North Las Vegas, was one of these students. Guevara always knew she wanted to attend college, but found the idea of being a university student daunting. When she signed up for the program, she hoped it would be a good introduction to college life at UNLV — one of her top three schools of choice to attend as a first-generation student.
"[Young Executive Scholars] was not at all what I expected it to be. Growing up, college was always portrayed as something stressful and rigid,” Guevara said. “But I loved everything about my YES experience — the teachers, the mentors, the learning materials. And I actually loved learning remotely because it allowed for much-needed flexibility. I think this flexibility was possible thanks, in part, to the project-based nature of the class. I liked that I could manage my own time, take a few days to get my work done, and still do well in the class.”
She did so well in the class, in fact, that her team won “Best Final Project.” This final project, in which students design the “integrated resort of the future,” is traditionally judged in person on the last day of the program. In true 2020 spirit, however, the final project was pitched to the judging panel via Zoom.
According to Guevara, not only did the experience help get her in the mindset of a college student, it also helped her reconsider her future career path.
“I always wanted to study forensic psychology and behavior analysis to help the Las Vegas community I grew up in, but after YES, I realized that a career in business management doesn’t sound so bad,” she said. “I’m grateful to YES for opening more career (and college) options to me.”