by Hunter R. Slaton | September 01, 2009

Planners aren't the only ones who benefit from using volunteer hospitality students. The students themselves reap the rewards of getting real-time experience at events, making valuable business contacts and, possibly, developing mentor relationships.

Marco Fernandez, 37, who attends the International School of Hospitality in Las Vegas, worked for planner Pat Norman at a meeting of the National Medical Association this past July. Fernandez pitched in at the registration desk, giving directions and helping fill out forms. For the rest of the conference, he answered general questions about the day's agenda.

"It was great," Fernandez says. "I had attended conferences before where I had to register, and I never really appreciated how it was done. It was nice to be able to confirm in person the details of what I've learned, and to see all the booths and kiosks." When he goes back home to Chicago after graduation, "these internships will make me feel more confident when I go looking for a job," Fernandez says.

Whitney Johnson, 22, who graduated in May from San Diego State's School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, also speaks highly of her internship experience. While in school, she worked a lot of special events, doing everything from "dressing up as a gangster girl" and taking pictures with guests at the grand opening of a historic theater in downtown San Diego to more standard intern duties like helping decorate rooms, clearing tables and working the registration desk.

"Working and volunteering is definitely how I met my network," Johnson says, which helped her land a job as division assistant for convention services at the San Diego Convention Corporation, working under director of convention services DeeAnne Snyder, CMP.

"I would definitely recommend interning to any student," Johnson adds. "Looking back, I gained a lot of experience, my resume is longer and I've met some great people."