EDINBURG — A new program coming to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley aims to change the thought and skill behind hospitality and tourism in the region by awarding specialized bachelor’s degrees and certificates.
The hospitality and tourism management bachelor’s degree program at UTRGV is set to launch this spring semester as part of the university’s College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
The program will begin by offering an introductory course this spring focused on exposing students to all the different areas impacted by tourism and hospitality in which they can find a career path.
“This program is taking that core business foundation, but giving the students basically an industry-specific track,” said A.J. Singh, founding director of the program. “We’ll start to take them through specific hospitality and tourism classes.”
Singh has been working and teaching about the industry for the last 40 years, and a month ago he made the transition from Michigan State University to come lead the program at UTRGV. He currently works as a one-man band until professors and adjunct faculty members come on board.
Singh has helped shape the program along with consultants hired by the university to develop the core requirements. His goal for the first course is to offer a landscape view to all students and them help them transition into the specific area of the field where they fit in the most.
The program will be based on core business courses such as introduction to financial accounting, managerial accounting and microeconomics.
Then students will move forward to advanced courses such as hospitality law, international travel and tourism and will be given a choice to acquire a certificate in one of four pathways.
These pathways include lodging asset ownership and management, event and destination management, restaurant entrepreneurship and management and healthcare hospitality.
“So if somebody says ‘I don’t want to operate a hotel, but I want to get in the consulting side, or developing a hotel,’ There’s a track that can guide you with the skill sets,” Singh said. “They will get the core, but then they’ll also get to pick … depending on their personality and what they want to do.”
One of Singh’s main goals is to make the program not only stand out in the Valley, but nationally and internationally recognized as well. His aspiration is to create partnerships with other universities throughout the country and abroad and build a student exchange pipeline to expose students to other markets.
“We want our students to go outside the Valley even if it’s for a short time,” Singh said. “This way we have very well trained and qualified alums who make their mark somewhere else … and with that experience, then they come back and add value to the Valley.”
Once students come back to the Valley or enter the workforce after graduation, Singh said the job possibilities are wide ranging. Graduates could use the degree to go directly into the hotel, travel, or tourism sector, or they can use it to transfer to any other service industry job.
“They should view their skills as broader than the hotels and restaurants,” he said. “If you think of yourself as part of the service industry, now the service industry is much bigger. You have banking, retail, tourism sector, hospitals, property management.”
The introductory courses will also include guest speakers from the various areas of the industry that would give students a better idea of the skill-set they used in their careers.
The program has the potential to grow quickly, he said, as university officials have been discussing the possibility to have a building specifically dedicated to the hospitality school degrees and even a teaching hotel in the near future.
“Once that comes up that sort of becomes the center to do a variety of different events to bring in speakers from different universities, invite the public and engage the industry,” Singh said. “That also becomes a place where people can start to see that this is indeed a career.”