Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
LAS CRUCES - Natalie White can recommend the hospitality industry for fast-track careers. Five years out of college, she became director of ByRequest Operations and Corporate Guest Services at Wyndham International's Dallas headquarters.
The 1996 New Mexico State University graduate recently visited her alma mater to share her experiences with hotel, restaurant and tourism management majors. White began her career as an assistant front office manager at Wyndham Midtown in Atlanta.
"I learned all the pieces of the hospitality puzzle before I graduated," she said. "It wasn't just a textbook education."
NMSU ranks 21st among 115 college programs by the International Council of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Educators, with a 95 percent placement rate for graduates, said Janet Green, interim head of the hotel,restaurant and tourism management department and former New Mexico tourism secretary.
"Most of our students don't have to go out and look for jobs because major local, regional and national hospitality companies come here to recruit them," she said.
John Trujillo, national recruiting manager for Marriott International, says he relies on the NMSU program for high-quality recruits.
"It's one of the best hospitality programs in the country," Trujillo said. "The students are very qualified when they graduate, and they're hard workers who demonstrate a lot of leadership skills."
Trujillo says the experience required in the program is critical because it gives graduates realistic expectations about hospitality careers. Each student must complete 400 hours of an internship and 400 hours of direct work experience in the field.
"They don't have false ideas of what they are getting into," Trujillo said. "Students from other schools often think a hotel career would be fun, but when they hit the workplace they realize they made the wrong decision. In contrast, NMSU students are well prepared for their careers before they graduate, and that's what we look for in new recruits."
NMSU is the only four-year program in New Mexico and West Texas that offers a bachelor's degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management. Green says graduates are trained to work as managers in any of the three major arenas–-hotels, restaurants, or tourism. "We're not a culinary arts school," she said.
Almost 700 students graduated from the program since it began in 1988, with 75 graduating just last year. Today, almost 300 are enrolled.
Priscilla Bloomquist, who has taught in the program from its beginning, established the program's career fair in 1989 that now draws three dozen companies and agencies to recruit.
"No other department at NMSU does its own career-specific fair for students," she said. "It's unique."
Though students attend industry shows in Chicago and New York, not all need to leave the state to work. The hospitality industry is the second-largest private-sector employer in New Mexico.
"Our graduates occupy mid- and upper-level management positions in hospitality ventures across the state," Green said. "It is a growing industry and there are many career opportunities available."
Trujillo said NMSU is making a very important contribution to the industry. "We need qualified managers, and they're providing them."
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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