Serving Up Excellence

COD’s Hospitality instruction expands to offer virtual hotel simulation training, industry certifications with the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute, and exciting plans for internships and study abroad programs. These game-changing initiatives give students the chance to operate a hotel, engage in scenarios and explore the effects of food costs, profit and loss statements, so they understand the full scope of the business.

To say that the Coachella Valley exists on tourism as one of our most important resources would be an understatement. Millions of visitors vacation in the Valley generating over $7 billion annually.

Armed with an impressive resume and extensive experience working in the C-suite with the most prestigious hotel brands in the country, Yolanda Bender joined College of the Desert as Instructor of Hospitality Management in January 2020. She has been enhancing and expanding the multidisciplinary curriculum ever since. After managing over 650 team members in 15 hotels she shares, “It was time for me to stop being on the road and give back for future generations. And I am having the time of my life!”

What started as teaching two intro classes (Food and Beverage and Hospitality) soon multiplied into developing courses in hospitality law, operations, management, sales and marketing. Bender, Culinary Professor Kurt Struwe and PGA Professor of Golf Management Nicholas Altman are aligning the training of restaurant and golf amenity management so future vice presidents, general managers, restaurant owners and executive chefs will understand the full scope of the industry.

As the Valley experiences poor service in restaurants, hotels and across all service industries, a lack of professional service training is the main culprit for customer dissatisfaction. Hotels that once prided themselves on providing a full month of training before new hires went onto the floor are desperate for warm bodies and are now placing them on the floor to learn on their own. To address the need for professional training, Bender has developed a partnership with the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute, which focuses on creating career opportunities for upward mobility, spurring economic growth, investing in communities and serving America’s travelers. This collaboration serves the students well. If students score a grade of 70% or higher on their final exam, they’re able to achieve a certificate for that class and can continue to study through the full program. When they achieve a Certificate of Hospitality Operations and add that to their resumes, they will have a more promising chance of landing a supervisory or management position.

“If we can jump start a student’s career here, then they can earn a higher-level salary, which often affects their entire family. A hospitality career can literally change their life. Students share their dreams with us of buying a house, caring for parents and having a career they love. With an AA degree, those dreams are possible. And, because they have received professional training, they will go on to lead their teams to excel. Together with our students, we can turn around the service industry.”

Bender emphasizes her desire to broaden the program’s curriculum and, in turn, students’ paths to success. “We will be developing a new internship program with local hotels,” she says. “These internships, combined with their education and certificates, puts students on a fast track to growth within the hotel and country club industry. As interns, students are also opening their minds while discovering a variety of positions in restaurant, golf, catering, finance, front office, housekeeping, maintenance and human resources.

“This semester we are running virtual hotel simulations, giving students the chance to operate a hotel, engage in different scenarios and explore the effects of their discussions on food costs, profit and loss statements, etc. This will be a game-changer in advancing their cause-and-effect results and understanding how they play into the full scope of the business.”

Yolanda Bender, COD Instructor of Hospitality Management

Industry internships will give students hands-on training with the Valley’s best hotels learning a variety of positions in restaurant, golf, catering, finance, front office, housekeeping, maintenance and human resources.

Study abroad programs enrich a student’s education in many ways. One of the courses taught by Bender incorporates a group project to plan a dream vacation. The purpose of the project is threefold. First, it aims to introduce students to the wide array of interconnecting facets within the tour and travel industry. Second, it is important for students to learn how to interact and plan as a group since they will be doing so in the workplace. Lastly, it is to broaden their horizons and learn about other cultures. Every semester, the students indicate their desire to visit Japan. As COD has built relationships with colleges and universities in Japan, COD’s International Studies Director Cody McCabe and Bender are working to create dynamic programs that will hopefully launch in Summer 2023.

“The Japanese culture considers hospitality management a social science practice. Many of our students have never been out of the Valley, so this will be a life-changing opportunity,” Bender notes. Also under consideration is a Zoom exchange between students and instructors allowing both countries’ students the opportunity to study and compare American and Japanese hospitality techniques and training.”

“We would love to start a study abroad program to Mexico as well, combining hospitality, culinary and history. We want to make it a mind-broadening experience that allows the students to learn how real resorts are utilizing a sustainable and ecotourism approach now trending on a global level”

“Since so many students have had to return to working full-time to support their families, online training has benefited many students efficiently and economically. Now they are fitting these classes in where they can.” Bender says the next step for them to effect economical change is keeping up with their studies so they can more quickly advance into managerial positions and look forward to successful and meaningful careers.”

Many of Bender’s students are putting their education into practice after graduation, developing their inspirational ideas and making them realities. She has seen talented students pursue their four-year Hospitality Management degree at Cal Poly Pomona through the school’s transfer program. She also has students who were already working at prestigious hotels quickly advance to managerial positions, gain transfers to larger properties and soon find themselves making serious incomes. “Often, they will reconnect with me and express their astonishment at their job offers.”

“I have students that have started bakeries and meal-preparation businesses, too.” One such student, Kahlia Gainey, shares, “In 2020, I graduated from COD and I am so thankful for all of the support I received from my professors, EOPS team and my counselors. That was an extremely hard year for me. I struggled with becoming a single mom of four children and being temporarily furloughed from my job while also being a full-time student. Many times, I wanted to give up. But my professors and the EOPS team helped me along and gave me the extra push. I garnered enough strength to earn my degree and I even started my baking business, KSquared Desserts. I will always be forever grateful to COD and its staff for helping me reach for the stars.”

Bender expresses, “I am continuously blown away by our students’ creative ideas, energy and enthusiasm. We are here to support them and I know they are going to go far!”

To support the future of the Hospitality program, please email Catherine Abbott, Executive Director at

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!