“It was like–jump in, let’s sink or swim. And I swam.” Jennifer McClelland celebrated her 30 year anniversary at Little America Hotel earlier this year. Jen, a Flagstaff local for most of her life, had been taking accounting courses at Coconino Community College when she decided to take a break from higher education and, instead, find work. This is how she first came to Little America. After several years, she decided not to go back to school. For Jen, real learning happened outside of the classroom. She enjoyed jumping into things and learning by doing. By being open to trying “to swim,” she swam. It’s this unique kind of “jump-in” attitude that’s brought her success and growth in her now three-decades long career.
Learning by Doing
The Little America that Jen was first introduced to looked a bit different. For one, the decor still echoed the 1970s style that was original to the hotel since it first opened. She remembers the “crazy colored rooms” and the textures from a bygone time, such as the “fuzzy wallpaper” that was soft to the touch. She also remembers the distinctness of one meeting room that had a wall that was entirely mirrored in a 70’s “smoked-out” style. It was different. She clarifies, “Not in a bad way. Just different.”
Along with aesthetic updates also came technological advancement. First hired as a reservations agent, Jen remembers the days of taking room reservations from guests entirely by hand. Name, address, phone number, credit card information was all taken down onto reservation cards, which were then “kept in piles.”
As time went on, Jen also began looking for new ways to grow within the business. She considered leaving the hotel, venturing elsewhere, but when the position of Sales and Catering Secretary opened, she decided to go for it. In the process of working closely with the Sales Director and Catering team, she discovered something new that intrigued her. It was the role of the Conference Manager she liked focusing on the most. “I liked what she did and the detailed work and all the questions and just kind of seeing things come together.” After a few more years, that position that had so intrigued her became vacant. And while she didn’t have prior experience in that area, she thought “Why not try for it.”
“Trying for it” has served her well. And now, even though she never went back to school in the end, she finds she has everything she needs. “Sometimes you just don’t know what you want to do until you’re actually doing it.”
A People Person After All
As the Conference Manager, no two days are the same. Daily structure is people-dependent. “The days are not similar in any way shape or form…Every day is different. I don’t know [what my day will entail] until I get here.” It’s all about the people. Jen loves this kind of daily grind, which surprises her as she never saw herself as a people person until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I didn’t really know that I was like that until, COVID hit. No more people. And then I realized I am a people person. We were working from home and I hated that…we did it for two months and I was going crazy. So, then I realized, I’ve become a people-person.”
Being a people-person is celebrated here. Among the staff at Little America, people are like family. And, at the end of the day, that’s what kept her here for so many years. When asked what her most prominent memories are she says she remembers the celebration of people. “All the people have a little piece of something special within them,” she says, “There’s not one big moment… I just enjoy every day. And that’s what’s important.