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WSU bringing hospitality program to Vancouver

WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel NetzhammeWashington State University (WSU) has unveiled a plan to bring its world-renowned hospitality business management program to Vancouver. The program will be offered through the school’s College of Business beginning this fall.

WSU initially approved bringing the program to the Vancouver campus seven years ago, when the hospitality business was booming. However, those plans were put on hold in 2008 due to the economic recession.

“At that time there was a lot of industry interest in offering the program, but it just didn’t seem to be the right time,” said Jane Cote, Academic Director for the WSU Vancouver College of Business. “When we had the economic downturn the industry took a turn and so did the university. We weren’t really expanding programs at that time. But things are looking up both for the economy and the industry. Now that they’re starting to grow and expand, it’s a good time to bring this program up.”

Contributions from a variety of local organizations with ties to the business community were key in funding the program’s expansion from Pullman to Vancouver, explained WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer. Leading those contributions was a $675,000 gift from the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Foundation. Tod McClaskey was the co-founder of the Thunderbird/Red Lion Inn & Hotel chain.

“Without a doubt, the McClaskey gift makes it possible for us to bring this program onto our campus at this point in time,” said Netzhammer. “We’re going to be investing a lot of our resources, but it is the McClaskey gift that has made it possible for us to say, ‘We can to do this by August. We can have a new faculty member in place to teach this new program.’ We are absolutely grateful to them.”

Much of the business community’s interest in the school’s hospitality program stems from the fact that it is consistently rated in top ten of 170 similar programs in the nation, said Tom Tripp, WSU Vancouver Professor of Management.

According to Tripp, students enrolled in the program are required to take courses on food systems, service operations and leadership courses designed specifically for hospitality situations. The signature feature of the program is a 1,000-hour paid internship requirement.

“The internship gets our students immersed in their field, it creates job opportunities, creates networking opportunities and is a way for us to serve the community that’s helping us offer the program,” noted Netzhammer.

Mill Creek Pub owner Russell Brent, who earned a pair of hospitality-related degrees from Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, said there is definitely a need for hospitality skills locally. He also explained his appreciation for the program’s internship component.

“Just going to school and learning through a textbook doesn’t necessarily prepare you for what you’re going to experience when you get out in the field,” said Brent. “I think the combination of the two is incredible.”

In addition to the internship requirement, Netzhammer said that the hospitality program is held in such a high regard because it is “about as forward thinking of an academic program as you can have.”

For example, he explained, the program has been extended to include hospitality services in senior living. He also highlighted the benefit that comes with being attached to the College of Business.

“I think the fact that our students graduate with a very core foundation in business and business management is absolutely connected to their success in the hospitality industry,” Netzhammer said. “We’re creating a very well-rounded business graduate who has the opportunity to excel in the hospitality industry.”

Sanford Jones, co-founder and president of the Wine and Food Society of Clark County, echoed that statement.

“Every year, the majority of business startups and business failures are restaurants,” said Jones. “I think the business aspect of it is what makes most of them fail. So having a structured [hospitality] program like that in our area is just a fantastic deal and we’re going to do everything we can to support it.”