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CVCC hosts its first Hospitality Academy graduation

CVCC hosts its first Hospitality Academy graduation

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HICKORY — Catawba Valley Community College honored its first-ever Hospitality Academy graduates during a recent ceremony in the West Wing Commons.

A total of 10 students graduated from the inaugural Hospitality Academy, which was launched this past July.

“We are very pleased with the success of our first Hospitality Academy, and we believe we have built a strong foundation for future academies,” said Tammy Muller, CVCC executive director Strategic Business Partnerships and SkillsUSA Chapter. “We are also very grateful for the support and guidance of our industry partners. Our partners were critical to the academy’s success. We are also so proud of our students, and we look forward to seeing the great things they are going to do in their careers. This is truly a great day for all of us at CVCC, and I am so thankful for having the opportunity to be a part of our first-ever Hospitality Academy. It is particularly special to me because I grew up in the hospitality industry while I was in high school and college.”

Through CVCC’s Hospitality Academy, students completed a 12-week program, which started with orientation on July 12 and ended on Oct. 4.

Graduates from the first-ever class of CVCC’s Hospitality Academy included Jack Almeida, Nancy Blair, Kyle Gragg, Darlene Horne, Russell Kirby, Renee Mani, Jakayla Nichols, Kimberly Snipes, Chelsea Stalnaker and Demetrica Walker.

“We are really excited about this new program, and we are confident it is going have a positive impact on our community,” said Gary Muller, dean for CVCC’s School for Workforce Development and the Arts. “It has already been a great experience for everyone involved because our college has built very strong relationships with our Hospitality Academy core partners, and of course, with our Academy students.”

By completing this program, graduates also received three certifications — Servsafe, TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) and RASP (Responsible Alcohol Seller/Server Program).

Topics covered during the duration of the Hospitality Academy included Hospitality Overview, Customer Service, Professionalism, Teamwork & Communication, Health and Safety, Dining Etiquette, Financial Management, Hospitality Law and Career Building & Professional Development.

Garrett Hinshaw, CVCC president, was instrumental in the creation of CVCC’s Hospitality Academy. At the graduation ceremony, Hinshaw spoke to the graduates about their significant role in moving the local hospitality industry forward.

“We are truly committed to our hospitality partners and will do whatever we can to support them. I am so pleased to be here at this event today. It’s been a long time coming. (Catawba Farms co-owner) Twyla (Deese) and I started having conversations a couple of years ago now and really thought about what this industry needed here in our region. You all are representative of exactly what we imagined when we envisioned this first group of individuals that are making a commitment to this industry, but also ready to bring value to these companies that are excited to have you on board. We are excited about the strong relationships we built with our hospitality industry partners, which we believe will lead to the creation of more academies and related programs that will support the growth our community’s hospitality industry.”

All of the Hospitality Academy’s business partners were honored, including Zackary Cranford, owner of Standard Oyster Company, Granny’s Country Kitchen, Foothills Distillery and The Charolais Steakhouse; Tucker Cranford, manager of Granny’s Country Kitchen; Twyla Deese, co-owner of Catawba Farms, Carolina Vines and Trey Food Truck; Mandy Hildebrand, chief executive officer of Hickory Metro Convention Center; Lindsay Keisler, president and CEO of Chamber of Catawba County; Leslie Knapp, owner of Mellow Mushroom; Kevin Lu, owner of Rice Fun; and Scott Walker, general manager of Crowne Plaza hotel.

Instructors for the academy were also recognized, including Sarah Davis with the Hickory Metro Convention Center, Scott Walker with Crowne Plaza, Tucker Cranford with Cranford Hospitality and CVCC instructors Michael Boone, Christy Lefevers, Jeff Penley, Brandon Hensley and Tammy Muller.

Several students received outstanding attendance honors for attending 96% or more of the face-to-face classes. These students included Kyle Gragg and Renee Mani, who both had perfect attendance, as well as Jack Almeida, Darlene Horne and Jakayla Nichols.

Two of the graduates were recognized as speakers: Darlene Horne and Demetrica Walker.

Horne spoke passionately about just what CVCC’s Hospitality Academy has meant to her.

“This academy has empowered me to own this business,” Horne said. “It’s something I will take with me the rest of my life. I am committed to help rebuild our hospitality industry from the impact of COVID-19, and I look forward to working with all of the new friends I made through the Academy.”

Walker, who moved from California to pursue CVCC’s Hospitality Academy, spoke about her journey and just what being a part of the Red Hawks’ inaugural Hospitality Academy has done to shape her life moving forward.

“I gave up my entire life and the career I once knew to come here,” Walker said. “It’s been a very hard journey. It took me five years to like Catawba County, but now I tell people that Catawba County has set the bar high. I mean CVCC has set the bar very high. This school wasn’t a typical school. It was a school of kindness. I learned so much from this academy. I started my career in the hospitality industry in the back of house operation in a position that people often low grade as a dishwasher, but I loved it. Every day I arrived at work, I gave myself personal challenges. In this opportunity, I was a success story. I left here with Mellow Mushroom. That was a dream come true.”

Walker ended her speech by speaking directly to her fellow Hospitality Academy alumni.

“To my fellow classmates I would just like to say that whatever you do, do it with passion,” she said. “Do it with a smile, do it strong, go hard and then go home, but make sure you do it with Red Hawk pride.”

Catawba Valley Community College plans to offer its second Hospitality Academy this spring.

For more information on CVCC’s Hospitality Academy, contact Jennifer Eversole at 828-327-7000, ext. 4294, or email


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