Skip To Main Content
Bridges Students Gain Job Skills Through New Oakton College Program

The first cohort of students successfully completed an innovative training program, gaining valuable skills and work experience to prepare them for hospitality industry careers. Oakton College's new Earn and Learn program — which provides job training for neurodivergent individuals — includes on-site training at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Wilmette. The program culminated in a celebration of the graduates attended by Oakton College and Niles Township High School District 219 representatives on May 9, 2024. 

Oakton’s Workforce Development team created the Earn and Learn program in consultation with the Niles Township High School District 219's Bridges Adult Transitions Center. District 219 worked with Oakton to develop a pathway that aligns with the Bridges Transition Center’s curriculum and training. The Bridges program supports neurodivergent individuals transitioning from school into the workforce. 

“Congratulations to all graduates on their achievement and hard work,” said Leah Kintner, Senior Workforce and Community Education Program Developer. “We are very grateful to District 219 and the Residence Inn for embracing this new initiative, especially the Residence Inn team for sharing their knowledge and tips with the students. By partnering together, we are building just and thriving communities.” 

All eight students who enrolled in the Earn and Learn program in the fall earned the hospitality certificate. Two students received job offers from the Residence Inn after completing the program. 

“I have a grandson on the autism spectrum, but I am neurotypical,” said Kathryn O'Connell, Residence Inn by Marriott Wilmette’s general manager. “This was not only a great experience for the students but also for my team. It provided them an opportunity to gain a new perspective on working with others and teamwork.” 

The students earned a hospitality course completion certificate through comprehensive coursework and practical experience, working closely with the staff at Residence Inn to master various hospitality industry skills while earning an hourly wage. 

“I got to learn a lot, including customer service and housekeeping skills,” said Alexander Padilla from Skokie. “I recommend the program to others. Try it. You get to meet new people and work together.”

“The program helped with my resume as I was able to add more work experience,” said Kylie Herron from Skokie. “I also got to get to know my peers. Everyone in the hotel was nice and caring.” 

The College plans to enroll a 10-person cohort in the fall and may expand the program to include other partner schools and the general public. If you know a student who might be interested in the program or are an employer that would like to join the initiative, please contact Oakton's Senior Workforce and Community Education Program Developer Leah Kintner at