High-tech hospitality: HRTM ready to debut new lab

January 16, 2007 by Victor Venegas NMSU News Center

Jeffrey Cooper, a systems analyst with the College of Agriculture, installs new Dell desktop computers in the HRTM lab in Gerald Thomas Hall. (photo by Darren Phillips)

Jeffrey Cooper, a systems analyst with the College of Agriculture, installs new Dell desktop computers in the HRTM lab in Gerald Thomas Hall. (photo by Darren Phillips)

A new technology lab is set to open at the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management later this month, but it looks like students aren’t the only ones learning from it.

“I’ve learned a lot more about construction than I ever thought I would in my entire life,” said HRTM Director Janet Green about the $250,000 project.

The lab features 39 computer stations with various software programs used in hotel check-in, guest management and restaurant operations. It was constructed with funds from a capital appropriation from the New Mexico state Legislature, sponsored by state Sen. Mary Kay Papen and state Rep. Andy Nuñez.

“Anytime we can improve facilities, learning environments and add and expand technology, it is a benefit to our students,” Green said. “This continues our commitment to turning out the best and most prepared students for the industry.”

Chang Lee, an HRTM assistant professor, said the lab will help HRTM students have a leg up on other candidates looking for work in the hospitality industry.

“Every property uses some sort of computer program, so having experience with this type of technology will really benefit them,” said Lee, who has been at NMSU since 2004. “Up to now, it’s been only textbook learning. The lab gives us the technology to take a more hands-on approach.”

Green said that includes providing direct training on “the latest technology being used in hotels for front desk check-in. The lab enhances learning for the lodging students, but also provides us a way to train in restaurant operations, too.”

She also said an unexpected turn of events made the lab even more functional.

“We will have capability to do distance learning from the lab,” she said. “It was a surprise because it was not in the original design, but the construction bid came in lower than expected and that freed up money to enhance the technology.”

The opening of the lab is the latest event in the evolution of the School of HRTM, which also opened up a state-of-the-art food production lab at the beginning of the fall semester. Enrollment also has been rising, with a 25 percent increase over the past two years. Lee said he thinks a hotel is the next step for the school.

“It would be great for all of us,” he said. “It would be great for the school, great for the university and great for the community. I believe everyone wins if we had our own hotel.

“For the investors, there are 400 students here who are great, quality employees who want to make this their career,” Lee added. “For us, we have a property where we can offer hands-on experience for the students.”

Green said in addition to hotel, the school also is looking to hire more faculty and increase its graduate offerings.

“We see an opportunity, especially in the tourism area, for students who want to do a fifth year and go beyond a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “There are some sectors of the industry, especially in land management agencies, tourism research and marketing, a master’s degree does help move up that career ladder.”

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