As Maxine Donaldson, 23, scrubbed stacks of dirty dishes in the hot kitchen of the Coffee Connection, a restaurant in the Howard Inn, she had a consolation -- in a few weeks, she would be managing the restaurant.
During the summer, Donaldson will also sweep floors, balance the books, and prepare and serve meals. Her duties are so diverse because she is one of seven Howard University students who, for academic credit and a small stipend, manage one of two restaurants in the university-owned Howard Inn, near the campus at 2225 Georgia Ave. NW.
The students are enrolled in a four-year hotel management program at the university that leads to a bachelor's degree in business administration. The school expects to graduate its first class next year.
"I don't enjoy this job," Donaldson said as she poured powder-blue detergent into a large stainless-steel sink. "But it'll get me where I want to go." Where she and her six companions want to go is into hotel management.
Howard University started training students at the hotel during the 1984-85 school year under pressure from congressional critics, who noted that the hotel, which the university bought in 1981, was running up a $4.5 million deficit and not serving its stated purpose as a training center.
The picture has improved somewhat since then, according to university officials.
"We've been cutting back the losses," said Caspa Harris, Howard's vice president for business and fiscal affairs. Harris said the hotel would become profitable if developers took an interest in improving the physical condition of the neighborhood.
The university bought the debt-ridden hotel, formerly the Harambee House, for $1.3 million. It was a controversial purchase, but university officials were attracted by the hotel's potential to generate income and to serve as a training laboratory.
The hotel is still operating at a loss, but 52 students are now enrolled in the hotel management program. A total of 14 students are currently being trained at the Howard Inn, with half of them working in various areas of the hotel and the others managing the coffee shop under a special summer program.
Maurice Williams, director of Howard's Center for Hotel-Motel Management Education, said that students in the program "are getting excellent academic preparation" because they are required to take courses in accounting, calculus and management. "We're preparing them to be top-flight professionals," Williams said.
The course requires students to have 55 hours of general education, 47 hours of basic business education and 27 hours of courses specifically about hotel management. In addition, the course requires 1,200 hours of actual work experience.
The students managing the Coffee Connection said they feel challenged by their courses, but some wonder what washing dishes and preparing and serving meals have to do with hotel management. Greg Spiller, a 20-year-old junior, said, "It's been humiliating. Dishwashing isn't me."
John Dixon, general manager of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington, said that the training has value. "I think it's important that you understand all the tasks needed to run a hotel," said Dixon, who said he is one of only eight black general managers of major hotels in the nation.
While managing the coffee shop, the students can get help from a full-time manager if they need it. Cheryl Myrick, a 19-year-old junior, recalled the time she needed it. It was when a well-dressed couple refused to pay for a chicken dinner they said was not fully cooked. According to Myrick, who was manager that evening, the couple had eaten nearly all of the chicken.
The full-time manager's solution was to bring the couple another meal. Myrick said she would have handled the complaint differently. "At most, I would have given them a complimentary dessert," said Myrick. "I feel that if you've eaten more than half of the meal, you can't give it back."
Although it is a private institution, Howard receives about 60 percent of its funds from a direct federal appropriations. University officials say that no federal funds were used to acquire the hotel, nor are they used for operating it.
But after a GAO review of Howard's operations in March 1984, Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees Howard's budget, suggested that the university sell the inn.
"That would be a short-term solution but a long-term mistake," said Harris. He said he believes that the hotel will turn a profit in two years and that students are profiting in the meantime.
Dixon says the Howard Inn and the hotel management program fill an important need. "It's a growth industry," said Dixon, "and local [educational] institutions should see that blacks get in on the growth at a managerial level."