Helping people enjoy events and leisure time is an exciting and lucrative business, and those best prepared for careers in hospitality and tourism management require many proficiencies – from communication to technology. The NIU hospitality and tourism management program (HTM) provides students with a full complement of skills, and industry leaders are taking notice.
NIU is the only state-funded university in northern Illinois offering a bachelor’s degree program in HTM. Since nine community colleges in Chicagoland offer associate degrees in the growing hospitality field, NIU faculty developed a bachelor’s degree completion program uniquely designed for students who’ve earned associate degrees. The program is offered primarily online to accommodate students who are already working in the industry, as well as students beyond the region.
With support from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, students from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds benefit by having assistance to complete their degrees in four years without working long hours in non-industry-related jobs to pay for college.
This financial support, combined with the program’s mentorship opportunities, coursework designed with the help of industry leaders and experiential learning received through the on-campus hotel, restaurant and catering business, contribute to the HTM program’s success.
But what really sets NIU apart are the students.
“Part of what makes NIU students so attractive is their great work ethic. They do have hands-on experiences. They are coming into the workforce with a proper expectation level of what they need to do to get ahead,” said Jeffrey Wolff, vice president of guest experience at Marriott International, Inc. Wolff is a founding member of NIU’s HTM advisory committee.
Luis Maldonado is one of those students. The sophomore from Elgin, who is the first member of his family to graduate from high school, transferred to NIU from Elgin Community College.
He was a mentor for high school students in the National Restaurant Association’s ProStart program when he learned about the HTM program from an NIU professor.
“NIU has a lot to offer. I fell in love with the professors. They welcomed me and encouraged me to apply for a Marriott Foundation scholarship. It is because of that scholarship that I came here,” Maldonado said.
His career goals include delivering more personal and professional hospitality service. “I’m going to change the game a little bit,” he said.
Marta Kozlowska, a Norridge resident, wants to bring her skills to a different level as well. She was taking courses in pastry arts at Triton Community College when she discovered that she could further her education with NIU’s online program. Now enrolled in the degree completion program, Kozlowska’s goal is to become a hotel general manager.
“I enjoy how the courses are set up. Some are on an interactive video and it’s great because you feel like you are in class,” said Kozlowska, whose goal is to become a hotel general manager.
Thomas Pavkov, chair and professor in the NIU School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences, said the HTM program provides students with a myriad of opportunities.
“When our students graduate, they are qualified for jobs in one of the fastest growing industries globally and have the rewarding opportunity to serve others,” Pavkov said.
Both Maldonado and Kozlowska were recipients of The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation scholarships – funds that allowed them to pursue their degrees. Recently, the foundation renewed its commitment by awarding $147,000 to the HTM program. Those dollars will support scholarships and student engagement opportunities to further enhance career development.