If you’ve ever stayed at AMC’s Cardigan Lodge, nestled at the base of Mount Cardigan in Alexandria, N.H., you’ve probably met Natalie Milligan. Always enthusiastic and insightful, Milligan has served as Cardigan Lodge’s assistant manager for the last 10 years. Her day-to-day work can include anything from welcoming guests to running the retail area to managing the croo, but even so, Milligan knows there’s so much more she can learn about the hospitality industry.
AMC felt the same. Realizing there is potential to help employees across the region expand their knowledge and skills, AMC teamed up with Eastern Maine Community College, in Bangor, Maine, to develop a co-branded associate degree program in Outdoor Recreation Management and Eco-Lodging. By combining the training AMC already offers employees with a few new courses taught by EMCC, the program would provide students with the college credits necessary to earn this degree.
“John Judge had connected with [EMCC’s] president, Lisa Larson, and discussed creating a program that would convert AMC’s onboarding for employees from a training model to an education model,” explains Dan Crocker, the dean of Enrollment Management & Institutional Research at EMCC and one of the curriculum designers for the Outdoor Recreation Management and Eco-Lodging degree. “The result was starting a 31-credit associate degree program.”
Milligan is one of five AMC staffers who are part of the degree program’s pilot group. She and her peers have been taking online courses and holding internships since the fall 2018 semester, with the hopes of wrapping up their certificates in Spring 2020. To accomplish this, students take ten online classes, ranging in topics from “Introduction to AMC” and “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” to Wilderness First Aid, earning micro-credit badges that build toward their degrees. They are also required to complete three internships with various AMC departments, including retail, cooking, reservations, and more.
“What we’re doing is taking a bunch of different training elements to help our students better prepare for the outdoors and work in hospitality,” says Vinnie Spiotti, AMC’s director of lodging operations. “The goal is to have the students do different things within AMC and develop deeper skills and understanding. I think that, as we move forward, we will want to continue to work on and deliver to a broader audience from there.”
As AMC and EMCC continue to polish the curriculum, enrollment will open up to more AMC staff, as well as members and, eventually, to the greater public. The program’s success in its first few years will determine that timeline.
Crocker says the badging, or micro-credit, element is a new education tool that EMCC and AMC will expand on in the coming years, as well. As students complete courses, they can earn badges to verify they’ve developed skills in a certain field, whether that’s rock climbing, first aid, or outdoor leadership.
“Developing a college program takes a year or two,” Crocker says. “We’re still in learning mode, but we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Misty Mott, AMC’s assistant manager at Mohican Outdoor Season in New Jersey and one of the five AMC employees piloting the program, says participating has been a great networking opportunity for her.
“I now have some new friends in AMC and have learned about their roles and what they do,” Mott says. “I’m really looking forward to doing my conservation internship and to be able to bring that knowledge back to my job here at Mohican.”
“This opportunity has been so great,” Milligan says. “It has really changed the whole way I’ve thought about my work experience here at Cardigan. I’m even looking to take more courses after, to go above and beyond.”