The foodie community has been gunning to pop bottles, contract sake fever and taste all that is grand ever since UNLVino’s spectacular 40th anniversary last year. Year 41 is right around the corner, and a small army is making preparations for thousands of guests to sip for scholarship in 2015.

While you will see many friendly faces behind the booths and the bars, you won’t get to witness, or fully appreciate, what goes on behind the scenes to put on this historic food and drink spectacle. Events of this magnitude pose enough of a challenge for experienced professionals. UNLVino, for those who don’t already know, is planned and executed largely by students at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.

LVFNBPro got the chance to sit down with a few of UNLV’s finest. They shed some light on not just what goes on amidst the camaraderie or chaos? at UNLVino, but what it means to study hospitality and the art of creating memories. The experience certainly has its bumps along the way, but attracts a passionate group who aspire to take leisure, luxury and escape to the next level.

“I knew that I thoroughly enjoyed talking to people, helping them out, and the idea of traveling…I realized that there was no other way I could go but Hospitality,” said Alexandra Hurtado, a senior.

Hurtado is joined by Daniela and Mercedes Sanchez, whose high school experience inspired them to enter UNLV.

“The summer before my freshman year, I was asked to go to an open house at Valley High School, home of the Academy of Hotel and Tourism [AOHT],” begins Mercedes, a senior. “It was in those classrooms where I found my passion for hospitality.”

“I loved the idea of…attending one of the top hospitality colleges in a city thriving on hospitality!” added Daniela, a sophomore who also graduated from Valley’s AOHT program.

Daniela and Mercedes are both at UNLV on scholarship, as well as serve on the executive board for the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality [NSMH].

“It was because of the scholarship that I decided to stay in Las Vegas for my undergraduate [degree],” Mercedes said.

And this scholarship may very well lead her to stay in Sin City after graduation.

“My goal after graduation is to either land a direct placement role in a Sales or Catering Department in Las Vegas,” she said. And while she has an end goal in place, she’s making the most of her college career to build out her managerial skill set.

“My goal for after graduation is to make the college that gave me my top education in hospitality proud,” adds Hurtado, who is still refining her internship search.

The career search is two-fold. Of course the students want to land a top hospitality role post-graduation, but the hospitality program is no stranger to the significance of work experience in this profession. Students must log 1,000 professional hours as part of the degree requirements.

Students have many resources to help them through this goal, however. UNLV’s prime location and experienced faculty are key assets that students won’t find in too many other programs.

“We are given many emails a day about open jobs, upcoming internships, hospitality-related volunteer events, and more,” said Daniela. “They provide students with all the tools they need to finish an internship and the 1,000 work hours.”

“We are so fortunate to go to school where the hospitality playground is our backyard. A majority of my professors have or still work in the industry,” Mercedes said. “[They have] real life experiences to share with their students, and have connections throughout the Las Vegas Valley.”

But those connections and experiences aren’t limited to Las Vegas. UNLV’s network spans, and takes students, across the globe.

“Two summers ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in Switzerland, and take food and beverage courses with UNLV professors who have built long lasting relationships with various restaurants and wineries throughout Europe,” Mercedes said.

“That is one college experience that I will never forget.”

Mercedes’ experience has taken her on a domestic journey as well, allowing her to intern at the Aspen Meadows Resort Food and Beverage Department in Aspen, Colorado. She has brought back a holistic experience to build on her pursuits back in Las Vegas. It’s this kind of exposure that has allowed Las Vegas itself to innovate on an unmatched level.

Daniela has also gotten to broaden her work horizons through UNLV’s connections.

“It was at one of the hotel career mixers that I was able to start a relationship with Starwood Hotels and Resorts,” she said. “I have had an externship and internship through them in food and beverage.”

When asked about some of the more stressful aspects of the program, the girls reverted back to the job search, as well as a class that emulates reality [food] TV.

“The most stressful and engaging class has been FAB 159. In that class we learn different cutting, cooking and pairing techniques,” begins Daniela. “Our final exam is very similar to what my culinary competitions look like: you are given a mystery basket, you cook the food in a way that displays as many techniques as possible, plate it with all 5 elements, and present it all within a certain amount of time.”

And while students enjoy these Chopped! And Iron Chef-like missions, the tests are meant to equip them with skills for the real world, where work experience reigns supreme in recruiters’ eyes.

“The first day in my HMD 101 class I was told GPA did not matter. In the world of hospitality, it is your work experience that matters,” said Daniela. “The time commitment we have to make to work and school is more crucial in hospitality management than it is in any other major.”

She adds that the hospitality major itself is a difficult path. “Many non-hospitality students believe hospitality to be an extremely easy program, the easy way out,” Daniela begins. “We don’t have crazy imaginary numbers to deal with in math, but the competition is enough to make you feel like you will never measure up.”

Many of UNLV’s students apply for manager in training [MIT] programs at the various hospitality firms. They say that these programs are extremely competitive because the number of management positions available is significantly smaller than the number of students applying for them.

UNLV recognizes this and continues to leverage its location and faculty network to connect students with potential employers. UNLVino has risen as a valuable asset to increase the school’s outreach.

When asked about UNLVino, Mercedes sees UNLVino as a monumental facet of the school’s hospitality program, both for helping put students into school as well as advancing student success post-commencement.

“UNLVino plays a huge role in the Hotel College, as this is our biggest fundraiser,” she said. “It just goes to show how passionate we are about it and how important ticket sales and donations are.”

The students play critical roles in putting on the event.

“Cooking the hors-d’oeuvres or passing [them] out, showcasing the various wines…figuring out all the logistics and acting as liaison between all the vendors,” Daniela said, commenting on some of the many moving parts behind the scenes.

“I am in the UNLVino capstone class as a student manager,” said Hurtado as she describes her role. “I am on the Southern Wine & Spirits team helping with the suppliers that will be at the 3-day event. As a class, and as a school we are all very excited for this long lasting tradition to happen.”

While students have no shortage of to-dos to keep them busy, they make time to reach out to industry leaders attending the festivities. The event becomes mutually beneficial for students seeking jobs as well as professionals looking to recruit top talent. This is certainly the place to find both.

“UNLVino is a great chance for graduating seniors to network and to show off…the skills that we have been perfecting for the past four years,” Mercedes said.

When asked to sum up UNLVino, Mercedes reflects on the event’s success in shaping the city’s service culture, generation after generation.

“This event brings the college together with the Las Vegas community. Whether it be by the community donating monetary values, services, or time, it all supports and helps future industry leaders!”

These students appreciate, and encourage, your sips for scholarship. And as the event has provided for more than 40 years, there will be many sips to be had.

UNLVino was cofounded in 1974 by the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration and Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, the two organizations which continue to sponsor it today. Over the past four decades, UNLVino has raised several million dollars for scholarships and other academic developmental needs of UNLV students. UNLVino is differentiated through unparalleled, hands-on student experiences at all levels of event planning, execution and promotion, as well as the impactful funds raised each year - all testaments to the celebratory weekend’s broader purpose - scholarship.

This year, the 41st annual UNLVino will feature three days of events, for wine, beer and spirit enthusiasts, April 16-18, 2015. Nevada’s original wine festival will showcase an array of international beverages and continue Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada’s mission to raise millions of scholarship dollars for students of UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. UNLVino will also continue its tradition of recognizing hospitality industry leaders with the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence. The 2015 honorees include culinary icon Daniel Boulud and the “Godfather of Italian-American cooking” Chef Steve Martorano, as well as UNLV’s Presidential Advisor for Strategic Initiatives, Don Snyder.

Bubble-Licious will take place at The Venetian Las Vegas’ Doge’s Palace Plaza on Thursday, April 16, from 7-10 p.m. Sake Fever will take place at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa on Friday, April 17, from 7-10 p.m. The Grand Tasting will take place at Paris Las Vegas on Saturday, April 18, from 7-10 p.m. Tickets for UNLVino are now on sale at UNLVTickets.com. For more information, visit UNLVino.com.