Real-World Data Connects the Classroom to Future Careers

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Remember in elementary school when you came back from summer vacation and your teacher had you write an essay on what you did that summer? Well, here goes! This summer I participated in the NapaLearns-Hospitality Industry Partnership Externship, which placed 18 teachers from the Napa Valley at various hotels and resorts in the region to learn about the hospitality industry and what type of skills they need in their team members.

According to the Napa Valley Register, there are currently 14,000 leisure and hospitality jobs in Napa County. And there are hundreds of hospitality and leisure jobs that need to be filled: chefs, housekeepers, architects, engineers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, IT specialists…you name it. Many of these jobs are ones my students will apply for. The reason I wanted to be part of this externship was to help develop a working relationship between education and industry partners in order to make sure that my students are getting the education they need to be successful in their future careers.

Day One: Back of the House

I shadowed two sous chefs at the Meritage Resort and Spa as they went through their daily routine. I learned that there is so much more that goes into running a kitchen than just cooking: creating menus, ordering ingredients, prepping for the next day’s menus, managing personnel and keeping (sometimes very large) groups of guests happy.

Daniel Garcia, Dan Rosales, and Jose Mejia (Dan Rosales)

Sous chef Daniel Garcia was born in the United States, but at age five his family moved to Spain so his mother could work as a human resource director for Hilton Hotels and Resorts. You could say that hospitality is in his blood. Jose Mejia was born in Florida and has worked his way across the country. Both went to culinary school to obtain their skill sets.

Jose stated that when he was in school learning spreadsheets, he thought to himself that he would never use this again. Not true! The kitchen uses at least six different software programs, all of which rely on spreadsheets to organize data such as ingredients, food, equipment, clothing, guest rooms, restaurant seating, employee scheduling and payroll. As someone who teaches spreadsheet skills to my own students in my computer science and physics classes, this really hit home for me. I have many students who may not see the long-term benefit of working with this tool and knowing how to communicate effectively using spreadsheets. I immediately started thinking about how I would modify my data assignments to reflect this real-world application.


Each sous chef has their own responsibilities, but they are always helping each other. Daniel stated that they try to keep the kitchen a friendly environment because sometimes they work very long hours together. Teamwork and communication seemed like the other important skills necessary for this work that I would take back to my students.

Day Two: Front of the House

Auberge du Soleil

I shadowed Sharon Wyatt, Director of Guest Services for Auberge du Soleil, who reminds me of my Air Force Chief Master Sergeant who always had the pulse of the squadron. Sharon has the same air about her: she knows everything that is going on in all departments at all times and takes detailed notes that she puts in a database when time permits.

Every morning the supervisors of the all departments get together to go over what events are happening that day: how many rooms need to be turned, how many guests are checking in, and the number of restaurant reservations. I also observed the concierge uses database software to manage the details involved in planning a guest’s stay: from arranging spa time and wine tasting, to making reservations and transportation arrangements for dinner. The emphasis on communication between team-members and tracking via databases strongly reminded me of my back-of-the-house experience from the day before.

You only think of hospitality when you go on vacation, but when disaster strikes (such as a fire or an earthquake) the local hotels use their databases to keep track of guests that are evacuees and coordinate with local and state authorities to make sure that everyone gets shelter. Jeffrey Parungao, the manager of Napa Winery Inn, helped us when we were evacuated for the Snell fire.

Classroom Application

The main takeaway I brought back to my students as a result of this externship: Find something you have a passion for, and get the training and skills that will enable you to make it a career. I learned how the industries in the Napa Valley use databases and information to run and promote their industries, and what skills they are looking for in their team members. They need people with strong communication skills and people that are fluent in computer software, which indicates the importance of beginning computer science classes for high school students.

I also developed an assignment based on this experience for my AP Computer Science Principles course that will support their AP requirements as well as build connections between computer science and real-world industry. Here is the assignment: Choose and research an industry of the Napa Valley, then use free infographic software like Canva and Piktochart to create a infographic on that industry. When my students learn how to build databases as a part of the assignment, they will build them based on a real-world situation that is related to their industry of choice. As a possible extension to the assignment, we can provide these databases to students in the financial algebra course to use for their own projects. It is my hope that the infographics the students created will also be used by the resorts on their websites.

Infographic created by one of Dan's students. (Dan Rosales)

What’s Next

Next year NapaLearns-Hospitality Industry Partnership plans to add more of the valley’s industries to its membership (wineries, hospitals, doctors and dentists’ offices, retail, auto, etc.), and to offer summer externships to 100 teachers from the Napa Valley. Colleagues, I highly recommend you apply next year in order to take back ideas on how to better prepare your students to integrate into the real world. I personally want to see how technology is being applied in these industries. I can’t wait to write next year’s summer vacation essay!


Editor's Note:


If you want to learn more about how to make infographics in your classroom, take our free, online course Making Infographics on KQED Teach.