Texas Tech University Hospitality Services hires about 1,000 employees each year, including 400 to 450 students. Some of these workers turn their jobs into careers.
Kirk Rodriguez, Jeff Caperton, Christy Norfleet, Antonio Regalado and Alan Cushman are five such employees. All five have degrees from Texas Tech University and over 15 years of experience in hospitality.
Each of them started working for Hospitality Services as a student. But seemed like a temporary way to make ends meet in college turned into a long-term professional endeavor.
“We really are Red Raiders feeding Red Raiders, and that’s something you don’t see in other places,” said Cushman, the manager and business developer for Hospitality Services.
Cushman, who has been in the department for 16 years, said many people have worked in Hospitality Services for extended periods.
Kirk Rodriguez, managing director of Hospitality Services, has been employed there for 23 years. Although the department has high student turnover, he said, among the non-students employees turnover is almost nonexistent.
“We have people who when they come here, they stay,” Rodriguez said. “I think that just has to do with everybody around the table. I am just lucky that I get to say I’m the director of the department and that’s pretty cool.”
All five Red Raiders featured here said their fellow employees, students or otherwise, are one of the most important reasons for staying so long.
Jeff Caperton, staff developer and training coordinator for Hospitality Services, said that when he applied, he just needed a job, like any other student employee. Over 20 years later, he still loves working in the department because of lifelong friendships and the family atmosphere.
“You meet people here, and you’re with them 20 or 25 years down the line,” Caperton said. “I always tell people that I have more family working here than in my whole family.”
Originally from East Texas, Christy Norfleet, the manager of sales and event planning for Top Tier Catering and a 20-year employee, said her fellow workers have become her “surrogate family.”
“I’ve had moms, and dads, and brothers, and sisters and whatever that are closer to me than some of my own family members because I’ve gotten to know them so well and they’re right here with me,” she said.
Antonio Regalado began working for Hospitality Services in 1994, as a non-traditional student. The job gave him a chance to have half of his tuition waived. Since then, he has become manager of retail operations.
Regalado said having different positions throughout his career kept it interesting, giving him a chance to see the impact his department makes on the university community. His favorite part of his job is watching students grow and find their paths in life.
Norfleet was one of Regalado’s employees, so he saw her transition through various life stages. And Norfleet herself said one her favorite parts of her job is hearing about former student employees’ success.
“I have apparently made some kind of impact in their lives that they feel connected enough to come back and tell me what’s going on in their life,” she said. “It’s really an amazing process.”
Cushman said Hospitality Services is a student-driven department. The department offers support not only to hungry students, but also to student employees.
“We get a student for one or two years, and then they graduate,” Cushman said with a laugh. “And you’re excited for them, but you hate to see them leave because they’re so good!”
Rodriguez said he tries to attend at least one graduation ceremony a year because he feels proud of every student who walks across the stage, even the ones who do not work for Hospitality Services.
“I tell some folks that we can take some owning in the fact that when a student walks across the stage and graduates, we had a hand in that,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe not directly, but we were still involved in building and helping that student get to that point.”