NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University graduating senior Tia Dixon is finding her feet outside her comfort zone and ready to launch her career in hospitality. Dixon just completed an experiential learning internship at the Lied Lodge and Conference Center affiliated with the Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and began work as a full-time employee March 28.
A senior majoring in hospitality management and tourism, Dixon has worked at the Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau, which could have counted as an internship, but she wanted to experience a place where she knew no one. The Oakdale native arrived in snow-covered Nebraska – 13 hours from Natchitoches — in January and in a short time had experienced two blizzards and temperatures at -35 degrees F. But Dixon adjusted quickly and found a welcoming circle of friends among her new coworkers.
“I was nervous at first. I didn’t know if people would be friendly,” she said, “But there are quite a few people from Louisiana there. I love the company. There was a pretty close team at the Visitors’ Center in Natchitoches. That’s important. People I work with here make it fun.”
The Lied Lodge and Conference Center is part of the Arbor Day Farm, 260 acres of natural beauty and historic significance. The complex also includes the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, birthplace of the Arbor Day and a national historic landmark; Tree Adventure, a nature-themed attraction, and other educational and leisure points of interest.
Dixon’s main job is working the front desk, checking people in and out and answering questions for guests. She has also been able to shadow sales associates who organize banquets and other events and has assisted with housekeeping and helping with reservations. The center also has an events coordinator on staff and Dixon has been able to sit in on planning meetings with her.
“I’m a little all over the place, but I wanted to get as many experiences as I can,” said Dixon, who originally was not interested in working in a hotel. “I really wanted to do events, but I also wanted the internship to turn into a full-time job.”
Several of her HMT friends were interning at lodges around the country. An internet search led her to the Arbor Day Foundation Center, a popular destination for residents of Nebraska and surrounding states. Although COVID-19 restricted conferences and group gatherings, the Lodge has continued to have healthy occupancy among leisure travelers. The center is a popular summer wedding destination and has an indoor pool and spa that attracts visitors through the fall and winter.
“People seem more comfortable as the COVID vaccine has become widely available. Our dining room has limited occupancy. Families come for the Tree Adventure and there are events at the Arbor Mansion,” she said.
Dixon said a rewarding aspect of working at the Lodge is the extra steps staff take to provide exceptional customer service.
“When people call to make a reservation for a special occasion, a birthday or anniversary, we will write a note that everyone signs and see that they have a birthday cake or flowers. We make the guests to feel very special. With every guest I’m reminded why I wanted to be a hospitality major.”
She’s also found that part art of hospitality is learning how to sooth unhappy guests, think quickly and solve problems. Fortunately, she said the staff at the Lodge promotes a team atmosphere, from her front desk coworkers to the vice president who knows her by name.
“It’s a great group of people,” she said.
An outgoing person who makes friends easily, Dixon was involved in many organizations at NSU, including Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority, Student Government Association and College Panhellenic Council. She was a Freshman Connector, Demon VIP and worked in the Office of Greek Life. She is planning a short visit to Louisiana in April and will return in May for graduation when she will collect her things for a move to Nebraska.
“Fall 2020 was challenging because of the hurricanes and finding an internship, but I’m very blessed,” Dixon said.
Information on NSU’s HMT program can be found at https://hmt.nsula.edu/. Information on the Arbor Day Foundation Farm, including details about Lied Lodge and Conference Center and other attractions, is available at https://www.arbordayfarm.org/index.cfm.