Fort Hays State University is doing its part to support the state's $5.6 billion tourism industry, and a tourism association that spans Kansas from Goodland to Kansas City is showing its appreciation with the creation of a scholarship.
"We launched the Tourism and Hospitality Program this year in response to a need for more travel and tourism employees who have the specialized education that is needed to grow the industry in Kansas," Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, said during a news conference Tuesday in the university's Memorial Union.
"We greatly appreciate the support of the Kansas I-70 Association with the announcement this morning that its members have created a scholarship for students in our hospitality management program."
The Kansas I-70 Association is a confederation of 14 communities that work together to promote tourism across the state from Colorado to Missouri along Interstate 70, which they describe as "America's Main Street." The communities are Abilene, Bonner Springs, Colby, Goodland, Hays, Junction City, Kansas City, Lawrence, Lecompton, Oakley, Russell, Salina, Topeka and WaKeeney.
Bridgette Jobe, director of the Kansas City, Kan., Convention and Visitors Bureau and this year's president of the Kansas I-70 Association, said the group was donating a scholarship of $1,000 a year, and FHSU would have the option of awarding the money to just one student or dividing it between two students.
"We created the scholarship to encourage professional growth within the Kansas travel and tourism industry," Jobe said.
Members of the Kansas I-70 Association are in Hays this week for their annual meeting, and Jobe said the idea for the scholarship arose at an earlier meeting when Jana Jordan, director of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, informed the group about FHSU's plans to create a hospitality management program.
"Jana did not ask us for a scholarship," Jobe said. "She did not even mention the idea of a scholarship, but our members were so excited to hear about this new educational program that they came up with the idea to provide encouragement for potential students. We also hoped that our action, as a leader in the industry, might encourage other Kansas tourism organizations to do the same, or at least cause them to encourage students to consider enrolling in the FHSU program."
To be eligible for the Kansas I-70 Association scholarship, a student must be enrolled in the FHSU program and must be willing to perform internship projects within the state of Kansas. Students who hail from one of the 14 communities in the association will be given higher consideration for the scholarship.
President Hammond thanked Jobe and her association members for their support, and he introduced Stacey Smith, director of the Tourism and Hospitality Program, to talk about the new program.
"On behalf of the university, the College of Business and Leadership, the Department of Management and Marketing, and the program, I thank Bridgett, Jana and the Kansas I-70 Association for their support and investment in FHSU’s students, both domestic and international," Smith said. "Together I believe we can contribute to the process of raising the quality and level of tourism and hospitality programming in the state of Kansas."
Smith pointed out that travel and tourism is a $1.3 trillion industry in the United States and is among the nation’s largest employers, with 13 million direct travel-related jobs. "It continues to grow even in these difficult times," she said, "and its complexity demands educated managers who have specific knowledge of the industry and excellent business skills."
She noted the unique structure of FHSU's new Tourism and Hospitality Program. "Few colleges and universities house their hospitality management programs in a College of Business," she explained. "The seven new courses that constitute the program are supported by the college’s strong business core. In itself, this constitutes a degree of distinctiveness unequaled by most programs across the country. In addition, when the College of Business and Leadership receives AACSB accreditation, the program will join the ranks of an exceptionally small group of programs located within accredited colleges. It also will be among a small group of tourism programs that are offered fully online."
Smith said the program had a dual focus in regard to student recruitment. "The program found its origins in the idea that it would attract a wide array of both international and domestic students to the FHSU campus," she said. "Since the program’s approval, our strategic partnership office has found additional international opportunities. Combined with the support of state organizations, such as the Kansas I-70 Association, the program will strengthen state tourism and management opportunities and carry the FHSU brand to many other parts of the world."
Smith thanked President Hammond, the Kansas Board of Regents, and the College of Business and Leadership for their vision in recognizing the need for this second undergraduate tourism and hospitality program in the state.
"We look forward to joining Kansas State University, as well as community and technical colleges across the state, in educating future undergraduates and adding professional development programming to existing tourism and hospitality management employees and organizations," she said.
"This is an exciting and important step in Kansas higher education and the future of Fort Hays State University. I can say without reservation that I am delighted and honored to be a part of this opportunity. Once again, I want to thank the I-70 Association for recognizing the potential of the new FHSU Tourism and Hospitality Program, and I urge other state hospitality organizations to join us in raising the value of Kansas tourism to a new level."