By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer,

There is no experience like practical work experience for college students who hope to work in the food service or restaurant industry. Now those who wish to gain the knowledge to manage and run establishments that attend Bowie State are now able to develop those skills through a program where they run a café on campus.

Saxby’s, who bills itself as a social impact and coffee company, has brought the opportunity to students at Maryland’s oldest Historically Black College and University. The new café is part of the Saxby’s Experiential Learning Program, which exists on college campuses throughout Pennsylvania. When the café officially opened on the Prince George’s County campus Nov. 19, it became the first at an HBCU in America.

Saxby’s opened a student-run café at Bowie State University as part of the organization’s Experiential Learning Program (ELP). (Courtesy Photo)

“We’re a company based on relationships,” said Ray Smeriglio, head of partnerships for Saxbys said during an interview with WUSA 9.  “We like to go where not only is the Saxbys mission going to be valued, but will be matched.”

Through the company’s Experiential Learning Program (ELP) – which launched originally in Pennsylvania – Saxby’s has partnered with BSU to create an exclusively student-run café. A total of 45 students, oversee the café’s operations and present profit and loss statements each month to the company’s executive team.  

Saxbys started the ELP initiative in 2015 to “embolden and support the next generation of entrepreneurs, providing undergraduate students with tangible experience as a supplement to traditional classroom learning, and further supporting the brand’s core mission to “‘Make Life Better’ in the communities it serves,” according to the company website.

“The student-team members are absolutely phenomenal,” Smeriglio added.” The hospitality that was already on that campus was perfect for what we do.” 

For students such as Devin Gallion, the ELP initiative gives him a head start to reach his career goals. This program meets at the intersection of Future Business Leaders of America and Junior Achievement. The 21-year-old junior business administration major is the student CEO for the Saxbys Experiential Learning Café and will manage a team of 45 fellow students. 

“I’ve always been interested in food service, so I feel like this was the perfect next step for my career after college, “Gallion said. “Saxbys ELP program allows me to get the skills I’ll need when I graduate.” 

There are performance based incentives for each student CEO who  will receive wages, bonus opportunities, and full academic credit throughout his or her one semester tenure. Saxby’s also claims this program will redefine the value of their undergraduate degree in the process by “challenging students to actively develop their leadership skills, promote teamwork, and learn resilience and cultural agility – all through a lens of genuine hospitality.” 

“It provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to take on the role of CEO of the full enterprise, learning all of the business operations from the inside out, including the hiring and managing of fellow students, said Bowie State President Aminta H. Breaux in a public statement. “We welcome this great addition to our campus that will complement our expanding entrepreneurship education programs.”