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NMSU international hospitality pilot program concludes in December

Since late April, New Mexico State University has hosted 14 high school graduates from Ecuador as part of a pilot project to teach the students English and the hospitality industry.

Two women (right) watch a man (left) make a sandwich.
Two students in the Go Yachay program at New Mexico State University observe a sandwich being made at Jason’s Deli. (NMSU photo by Tiffany Acosta)

The students arrived in Las Cruces following a January 2014 agreement between NMSU and the Ecuadorean government.

Yachay: City of Knowledge, is located near Ibarra, the capital of a rural province called Imbabura. The project is part of a multi-billion dollar campaign in the country to build and improve public universities and K-12 schools.

The program at NMSU concludes in mid-December and the group, referred to as Go Yachay, will return to Ecuador. Hector Rodriguez, the director general of Yachay EP, is scheduled to attended NMSU’s closing ceremony Dec. 9.

The students had six months of intensive English, including English custom-tailored for hospitality purposes, and two months of practical training from the NMSU School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.

“The Yachay program is part of a larger initiative in Ecuador to enhance higher education in the country,” said Cornell H. Menking, NMSU associate provost for international and border programs. “It is an initiative to enhance infrastructure in a fairly remote part of northern Ecuador that is basically converting cornfields into a university, government and industry complex.

“These kids have been given an opportunity that is completely unique in the history of the country,” Menking said. “It’s very unusual to handpick people of this age and send them internationally.”

After the English-training portion of the program, the students started working with the HRTM program in mid-October. The coursework focused on an introduction to hospitality and tourism, introduction to food service, marketing and hotel operations. A typical day for the students involved lectures and discussion sessions in the morning and then job shadowing in the afternoon.

“We tried to implement the hands-on portion of the learning through shadowing,” said Daren Bloomquist, associate professor in HRTM. “We shadowed at nine different hospitality businesses in Las Cruces, the Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inn Express and Suites North, Jason’s Deli, Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau, Atlas Travel Services, Las Cruces Convention Center, La Posta de Mesilla, Project Mainstreet and Sodexo.”

Bloomquist applauded the community partners for helping give the students a high-quality, real-world experience.

“They tried to see as much of the operation as they could,” Bloomquist said. “In the hotels, they were moved through various departments everything from front desk, housekeeping and maintenance to the food service.”

The students’ intensive experience also included interacting with general managers, learning about paperwork and attending sales calls. Bloomquist said the students will have spent about 90 hours job shadowing when the program concludes.

“What I think may be the most important thing about tourism, is to understand how tourism can help a community or harm a community,” he said. “I tried to teach them the right things to watch for and be careful of so they can help develop tourism the right way ensuring that Yachay is a sustainable tourism destination.”

Menking said the future of hosting another cohort of Go Yachay students is uncertain.

“We’re hoping that they will be impressed with the results, and we get approached about doing this again, but we don’t know if that will be the case. We hope it continues because it has been incredibly rewarding for all involved,” Menking said.

The Go Yachay students are not the only Ecuadorean students at NMSU. Since 2013, NMSU has hosted a program called Go Teacher, which aims to improve English education in the country’s schools. NMSU will host its fourth Go Teacher cohort, consisting of 75 teachers, for eight months beginning in early January.

Menking said hosting international students and programs like Go Yachay and Go Teacher benefits both the university and community.

“International students do not cost the state of New Mexico anything, quite to the contrary, they bring more than just their rich cultures and understanding of the world; they are bringing dollars and jobs to this area.”

For more information on Yachay visit http://www.yachay.gob.ec/yachay/?lang=en.