If you called Marcia Rafig unique, you would almost be right. "In most cities you can count the number of women [who are hotel managers] on one hand," said Rafig, a Philadelphia native, who became general manager when the University purchased Penn Tower Hotel in 1987. She supervises the running of the entire hotel, overseeing a staff of 200. Previously she had been head of the Class of 1920 Dining Commons. Rafig attended Widener College and Philadelphia Community College. She said that it was not hard to find role models when she came to the University. "I was lucky," she said. "I had Helen O'Bannon, a senior vice president, as a mentor." She also cited Vice President for Human Resources Barbara Butterfield, Senior Vice President Marna Whittington and Assistant Provost and Assistant to the President Valerie Cade as women who influenced her. "It's impossible to feel inferior or passive when you're surrounded by women like that," Rafig said. Joann Mitchell, director of the University's Office of Affirmative Action, said that men have traditionally dominated the hotel management field. "It's taken quite a long time for people to break through the barriers," Mitchell said. "Penn can be proud that they nurtured her." And Rafig serves as a role model herself. She informally advises more than 40 hotel and management students from schools throughout the country. Three times each year, she goes to Cornell University to speak to students at the hotel management school. "I always liked young people, I liked helping people," she said. "When I was in school I didn't have anyone and I had to fend for myself." Rafig often invites students from area schools to the hotel for career days. The students range in age from kindergarteners to college level. "I'm a working mother, most of these kids have mothers who work," Rafig said. "When they see me on the job they can . . . understand that it's okay to have a mom who works, that you can have a home, a career, and a family and still be okay." The career days also give minority children a positive role model. "Marcia shows them that they don't just have to work behind the front desk or as a maid or a porter," Mitchell said. "They can be the one in charge, the one calling the shots." "In upper management there aren't a lot of minorities," said Rafig. "When they see me they can say 'if she can do it, I can do it too'." Rafig got her start in hotel management through her family -- her parents were cooks and caterers. She worked at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, distributing food trays to patients. She then spent several years living in Ghana, working for the United States Information Service as an adviser for students who wanted to study in the U.S. "After I came back my husband said 'why don't you do something for yourself?' " said Rafig. "At first I looked into nutrition but I realized what I was really interested in was the management side. So I went back to school and got my degree."Comments powered by Disqus
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