Running her own bistro has long been a dream of one Washington State University Tri-Cities junior.
Pauline Garza began working in food service when she was in high school in Othello, job shadowed with a Las Vegas chef and worked her way up to head chef at Richland wine bar 3-Eyed Fish.
She pursued a business management degree at WSU Tri-Cities as a means to becoming a business owner. So when she learned the university will begin offering a bachelor’s in hospitality business management in the fall, she jumped on board.
“It allows me to apply my degree more to my life,” Garza told the Herald. “It pinpoints everything I want.”
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University officials announced the new degree program Friday after WSU’s Faculty Senate approved expanding it to the Richland campus.
One new faculty member, a former chef who is a food and wine expert, already has been hired. The program is expected to handle as many as 40 students in its first year.
The hospitality industry has steadily grown in the Tri-Cities in recent years, business leaders said. That means there will be increasing demand for people to manage and run hotels, restaurants and related businesses as the region’s wine industry takes off.
“The Tri-Cities is really coming into its own and we really need more educated professionals in the industry,” said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities.
WSU officials began looking at bringing the hospitality management degree to the Richland campus last year, largely motivated by the increasing number of wineries throughout the Mid-Columbia, Yakima and Walla Walla valleys.
The Wine Science Center, scheduled to be completed this spring, and the viticulture and enology program at the campus were seen as perfect complements to the wine business management major that will be available with the degree.
“We’re the only U.S. university with a wine science and a wine business degree, and that sets us apart,” said Donna Paul, academic director for business programs at the Richland campus.
University officials also suspect there will be students interested in a more straightforward hospitality business management major as more hotels and other service-related businesses open in the region.
The degree requires students to complete 1,000 hours working in the hospitality industry to graduate, another benefit of offering it in an area where there are already so many related businesses, Paul said.
Having such a degree program will be nothing but positive for the Tri-Cities, Watkins said. More than 5,000 jobs in Benton and Franklin counties are tied to hospitality services, from hotels and restaurants to wineries and golf courses. The industry is growing, with 2014 hotel occupancy figures up almost 7 percent compared with 2013.
The planned Manhattan Project National Historical Park at the Hanford site would likely bring in tens of thousands new visitors in the first year it opens, though that is likely five years off.
“It’s only going to elevate the quality of service,” Watkins said.
The university still needs to hire two more faculty for the program. Announcement of the new program so far into the spring will also likely limit enrollments the first year, as many students already have determined their course schedules and other plans for the fall, Paul said.
But Garza at least is excited for next fall’s classes, especially after hearing that the one hire made for the program is a former chef.
“I’m just getting good news left and right,” she said.