PSU gets some hospitality

If it were not for a new program beginning at Portland State this September, 21-year-old Milwaukie native Erin Johnson’s formal education would be over.

There is not currently a program in Oregon for Johnson, a Mt. Hood Community College graduate interested in sales and marketing in the hospitality and tourism industry, to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

However, PSU aims to change all that with a business degree in hospitality and tourism, to be offered in September in partnership with Mt. Hood Community College.

PSU plans to make University Place, the hotel and educational conference center it owns, a place for students to get hands-on experience running a hotel, learning restaurant management and cooking, and honing managerial skills.

Program creators agree that students will benefit most from hands-on experience.

“Not only do you have a specific degree, but you’ve worked in a laboratory; you’ve worked in a hotel,” said Dennis Burkholder, general manager at University Place.

“It’s not a unique concept. It’s something that’s been tried and proven,” said Court Carrier, the director of the hospitality and tourism program at Mt. Hood Community College. He added that University Place is “a wonderful facility” to provide training.

Students will have the opportunity to learn everything from cleaning rooms and making beds to increasing hotel profitability. They will be able to earn a community college associate’s degree and then enter PSU as a junior to seek a bachelor’s degree concentrating on hospitality and tourism in business, liberal studies or social science.

Two classes will be added fall term, with more to follow.

“We’re going to phase things in slowly” over a two-year period, Carrier said. In the works is a sophomore-level culinary arts class covering kitchen safety and basic cooking skills and a hospitality marketing course. Students entering the hospitality program at Mt. Hood will also have a chance to tour University Place.

PSU students will be able to take classes at Mt. Hood, and vice versa.

“We’re trying to keep this as interdisciplinary and intercollegiate as possible,” said Mike Burton, the vice provost of extended studies overseeing the implementation of the program.

“We will try and have every opportunity to work more closely with Portland State,” Carrier said, adding that the partnership will benefit PSU by drawing in more students. He said that of the 65 students currently enrolled in the Mt. Hood program, 10 percent are looking to transfer. “But down the road I think it will climb dramatically.”

Burton said that because Mt. Hood instructors will, at first, simply move a couple of classes to PSU, the cost to the university should be negligible until the program grows larger. “If there are costs,” he said, “they would probably be split between schools. We’ll come up with an agreement.”

Formerly the Doubletree Hotel, University Place has 235 rooms, a restaurant and nearly 8,000 square feet of conference space. It is likely, however, that the hotel will eventually be demolished to make way for a complex of educational facilities and housing for PSU.

“The university has long-range plans for the underlying property itself,” Burkholder said.

The main question is how to best make use of the property while it exists. Because it will probably be five to seven years before University Place is demolished, it is unclear whether or not the hospitality and tourism program will continue to be offered.

“That is a question to be resolved later on,” Burton said.

More classes should be offered winter term, Carrier said, including a course about how to manage conventions and meetings and one in operating hotel resorts.

Also in discussion are plans to make “minor modifications” to the kitchen in University Place to make it more student-friendly for culinary arts classes, Burton said.

Carrier, who unsuccessfully tried to raise enough money to build a small hotel on the Mt. Hood Community College campus, is excited about the program. “We’ve been without a school in hospitality for a number of years.”

Since a similar program was cut from Oregon State University in the early ’90s due to lack of funding, there has been no four-year degree offered in the field.

A program such as this is needed, said Carol Lentz, executive vice president of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association. Hospitality is the second-largest and fastest-growing industry in Oregon, she said.

Unfortunately, Lentz said, many of the “best and brightest” students in the industry have had to move elsewhere to further their degrees.

“Anybody who wanted to be in that discipline had to go out of state to get a degree,” she said. “We were losing really great people to other states.”

In addition, Lentz said, the industry was forced to bring in out-of-state people to fill upper-level positions such as managers and marketing directors. She said that many hospitality workers are from Washington, where there are more four-year degree programs offered at universities.

“The educational side is really important, especially in the hotel community.” Lentz called a four-year degree in the field “a leg up” and added that those who get them will “probably be promoted faster.”

“The industry is really involved. They want to see a local option for people to be able to go to school and not have to leave the area,” Carrier said.

Burton said that the Oregon Restaurant Association has discussed offering scholarships to students seeking a degree in the hospitality industry.

“A lot of students wouldn’t further their education if it wasn’t for this opportunity,” said Erin Johnson, the Mt. Hood student who plans to enter PSU in the fall. Though she is president of the Hospitality, Tourism and Recreation Club at Mt. Hood Community College and works 30 – 40 hours per week as a front desk attendant at the Riverplace Hotel downtown, she said that a four-year degree will help her go further.

“By moving on and earning that bachelor’s degree, I’ll be more successful,” she said.

Johnson first became interested in hospitality and tourism as a high school marketing student. “There’s something about trying to figure out what the customer’s wants and needs are and how you can sell them your services,” she said. “Every day is a little bit different.”

She is unsure which path she will take when she transfers to PSU in the fall, but eventually hopes to be a director of sales at a hotel. She said that the new program will get her there. “It really is going to make a world of difference. You definitely need to have experience in this industry.”

“If you’re bright, if you’re capable, you can move fast,” Lentz said.