May 14, 2014 by Amanda Bradford, NMSU News Center
As the 2013-14 academic year drew to a close this month, New Mexico State University professor Priscilla Bloomquist reflected on the growth of the university’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, which celebrated its 25th year preparing students for a career in a fast-growing industry.
When Bloomquist arrived in Las Cruces in 1988 to teach in NMSU’s brand-new Hospitality and Tourism Services program, she was its lone faculty member, housed in a little office suite in Knox Hall, with about 50 students.
“By 1988, there were a fair number of four-year programs around the country, there just wasn’t anything in New Mexico,” Bloomquist said. “There was a fair amount of growth around that time period, and part of that was just the recognition that the industry was getting more sophisticated and growing, and people started to recognize its importance in terms of economic development.”
What started as an outgrowth of the home economics department in what’s now the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences has grown into one of the college’s largest programs with roughly 300 majors. Hospitality and Tourism Services became the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management in 1996.
In 2005, the department was restructured as the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, strengthening its ties with the College of Business.
“The designation as a school gives us a higher profile and allows us to highlight the relationship with the business college,” Bloomquist said. “It helps emphasize that we are really an applied business degree.”
Students in the school take courses in economics, accounting, marketing, management, statistics and finance, in addition to their core departmental requirements in areas like hospitality operations and food production management.
That depth of business learning was what drew 2005 graduate Joshua Sanford to the HRTM degree.
“The program itself was really broad – it covered things like human resources and management, which is what running a restaurant is all about,” said Sanford, who is now general manager of a Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurant in Arlington, Texas. “It’s not just about food and beverage management.”
Sanford said the restaurant industry values experience as much as education, but his degree set him up for success by ensuring he had a broad skill set.
“The teachers and staff were really all about making us aware of every aspect of our industry,” he said. “It’s really geared toward business success.”
Bloomquist said that broad approach positions students well for a surprising variety of career fields, not just in the hospitality industry.
“In terms of a training ground for any kind of career, this industry is a great place to be,” she said. “You will develop all kinds of transferable skills working in this business that you can leverage into many different positions. A lot of it’s soft skills – you’re going to sink or swim by your people skills.”
Over the years, the school has gone from making use of existing campus resources like the old home economics kitchenettes and Corbett Center’s kitchens to building its own facilities. The department’s hands-on learning laboratory, 100 West Café, which serves lunches and dinners throughout the semester to help teach students the principles of food production management, opened in 2004 in the west end of Gerald Thomas Hall. In 2006, the school built a technology lab for the students, and most recently, the school opened the Bobby Lee Lawrence Academy of Wine, an event and wine-tasting room established through a gift in memory of Lawrence, who was a top wine expert in the Southwest.
“We were turning out really great-quality students even before we had these beautiful facilities,” Bloomquist said, “but they’re icing on the cake.”
She added that a curriculum designed to address critical industry needs and a required internship component have contributed to the success of the school’s graduates, who have been hired by companies including Marriott International, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Walt Disney World and MGM Resorts International.
Looking to the future, Bloomquist said one priority for the school will be to develop its international relationships and continue to strengthen industry ties. Another key goal is to develop a fully dedicated graduate degree program in hotel and restaurant management. Currently, NMSU offers a master’s in family and consumer sciences with an emphasis in HRTM.
“The School of HRTM is a vibrant place for learning, both academic and experiential,” said Janet Green, the school’s director. “When I travel, I meet our graduates all over New Mexico, as well as in urban areas. One student was the chief wedding planner of a major hotel in Washington, D.C. Another is a general manager of a property in Phoenix. They say things to me like, ‘When I found this program, I knew exactly what I wanted to do as my career.’”
Bloomquist said she hopes to see the school continue to grow while maintaining its focus on individual attention to student success.
“I think we’ll continue to be successful, largely on the backs of very hard-working faculty, good leadership at the departmental, college and university level, and the efforts on our part to do right by the industry and by the students,” Bloomquist said. “If we continue to do those things, we’ll continue to be successful.”