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Laguna Development Corporation employees graduate from NMSU hospitality internship program

LAGUNA - The first graduates of the New Mexico State University hospitality internship program with Laguna Development Corporation received their certificates recently before a standing-room-only crowd in a banquet room in the Route 66 Casino and Hotel.

NMSU's School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management (HRTM) conducts the program that allows Laguna Development Corporation employees to begin their education toward a HRTM degree while working and living on the Laguna Reservation.

"This is the first program of its kind in the Southwest and possibly the nation where an institute of higher education and a Native American owned corporation have collaborated in developing and offering the hospitality intern program on tribal land," said Al Kozal, Laguna Development Corporation's (LDC) director of training and development during the ceremony that honored 15 graduates of the program.

President Michael Martin said, as a land-grant university, NMSU wants to extend its class offerings statewide to help communities and organizations to enhance their lives.

"This is a great partnership," Martin said during the ceremony. "We are trying at every turn to find new ways to merge our interest and our capabilities with your interest and your capabilities in an attempt for all of us to get better at what we do. We hope this will be one of many, many more off-campus programs to come."

"It provided us the opportunity to learn and experience the world of hospitality," Graduate Mona Analla said, summing up the internship.

Classmate Nathan Lucero agreed and felt he now has the tools to go into the hospitality industry and succeed while doing something that he loves to do.

"These individuals are the start of many more individuals that we hope to see, not only in a certificate program, but to extend their education to a four-year degree in their disciplines as we move forward in the hospitality arena," said Jerry Smith, president of LDC. The tribal owned corporation operates 26 businesses on the Laguna Reservation and currently has 1,600 employees.

Hospitality management certificate recipients and LDC employees Cathy Analla, Ramona Analla, Shelley Bruce, Nicholas Cheromiah, Tanya Douma, Chris Encino, Anissa Jose, Stephanie Kowice, Ronald Hinshaw Jr., Nathan Lucero, Valentina Martinez, Alden Pedro, Camille Riley, Evan Riley and Kim Thompson were among the 29 students who began the program in 2006.

"The internship program brought together both the textbook and real life experiences. We were able to work on projects that related directly to our business," said graduate Tanya Douma.

"The fact that LDC provided this program for its employees was a great opportunity, experience and challenge. Special thanks to NMSU assistant professor Daren Bloomquist who dedicated his time to help us succeed," said graduate Kim Thompson.

During five, nine-week sessions Bloomquist taught five HTRM classes - introduction to hospitality, hospitality and tourism marketing, introduction to food service, hotel operations and introduction to tourism - in person at Laguna and on-line through NMSU's distance education.

"Not every student is a natural distance education student and they like the interaction that occurs with their peer and instructor in the classroom environment," said Janet Green, department head of the School of HTRM. "Having the face-to-face Saturday class, provided by Daren Bloomquist twice a month, was part of the reason this program was successful as opposed to pure distance delivery."

The students also did projects designed to give them the opportunity to apply what they learned in the classroom to real world situations of the hospitality and entertainment industry. The projects ranged in scope of identifying the expectation of LDC customers to developing a strategy for marketing the new Route 66 Casino Hotel.

"The projects were tough but they gave me a prospective of what I really enjoy the most - working for and with guests to make their visit with us the very best," said graduate Camille Riley.

"The internship program was both challenging and rewarding," said intern Ron Hinshaw. "Success not only meant a passing grade, but involved the successful juggling of family life, work and personal time."

The goal of the hospitality internship program was to develop management leadership from within LDC's ranks.

"This program has enabled us to gather a group of Laguna tribal members and move them to the next level of management in the hospitality industry. It has allowed us to place tribal members in management positions," said Frank Gallegos, LDC human resource director.

He added that hospitality management certificate program also allowed tribal members who had education pertaining to business and operations to enhance their knowledge about the hospitality industry in preparation for the opening of the hotel.

"I thought it was a great program, especially for those of us who do not come from a hospitality background," said graduate Stephanie Kowice.

"It was interesting to see the restaurant and hotel business from a different point of view," said intern Chris Encino. "To see what both departments have to go through to make everything fall into place."

Classmate Anissa Jose said "the internship program gave me a chance to understand and answer the whys of hospitality and tourism industry. I thoroughly enjoyed the class and encourage others to participate."

"The information I obtained will not only help me in my current job, but will open a doorway to a lifetime of personal satisfaction," said graduate Evan Riley.

NMSU and LDC are discussing additional programs for the future. The graduates of the first internship program say they will encourage others to participate.

"This was an excellent program that I would highly recommend to others," said graduate Tina Martinez. "I hope that LDC will continue offering this program."