CASINO hotels are booming in Asia but international students are still flocking to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to learn hospitality and gaming in the world’s original casino capital.
Students at the university’s William F Harrah’s College of Hotel Administration have 15 of the globe’s 25 biggest hotels right on their doorstep as well as a gaming, restaurant, entertainment wonderland.
We asked college dean Stowe Shoemaker to explain what makes the US institution such a safe bet for overseas students.
Student World Online (SWO): What’s the benefit of studying hospitality and hotel administration here in Las Vegas as opposed to, say, Switzerland?
Stowe Shoemaker (SS): What makes us different is our focus on what we call the art, the science and the business of hospitality and gaming.
Most hospitality programs around the world focus on the business side of hospitality. They’re essentially business schools teaching accounting, finance and HR etc through hospitality examples.
AT UNLV, at William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, we’re in the heart of the art and science and business of hospitality and gaming that is Las Vegas.
The art is everything that relates to the atmosphere - the lighting, the music, the scent. It’s the layout of the menus. It’s anything we do to create a great experience for the guest.
The science is revenue management, consumer behaviour, molecular gastronomy. How many two-tops should we have? How many four-tops? Why do consumers do the things they do? What makes these drinks taste the way they do?
Then of course there’s the business side - accounting, operations management and strategic planning etc.
Something else that makes UNLV special is our access to the knowledge capital of the world for gaming and hospitality.
Our students are completely integrated with the industry and becoming even more so.
All the major presidents of all the major casino hotels here are UNLV graduates. They come back and speak in our classes. And under our mentorship program every junior or senior has a mentor who is a senior executive on the Strip (the four-mile stretch of casinos, hotels and resorts for which Las Vegas is famous).
We also have a highly structured internship program. The students are told the specific skills they need to learn through their internships; the companies where they work are given manuals detailing the things the students need to learn. And the faculty monitoring the internship are also given the criteria. So it’s very structured.
So internships, mentorships, access to great leaders, guest speakers - these are the great reasons to study at UNLV. And of course, if you are going to work while you go to school, what better place to work than Las Vegas?
SWO:What programs do you offer?
SS: Our undergraduate program offers a broad educational approach to a career in the hospitality industry.
Our masters program includes:
Master of Science in Hotel Administration
Master of Hospitality Administration (executive online program)
Dual Master of Science in Hotel Administration/Master of Business Administration
Dual Master of Science in Hotel Administration/Master of Science in Management Information Systems
Doctor of Philosophy in Hospitality Administration
We attract a lot of students who perhaps have an undergraduate degree in an unrelated subject, and we can put them on a fast-track hospitality undergraduate program or they can go straight to a Masters program.
SWO: How popular are your hospitality programs with international students?
SS: Very popular. About a quarter of our undergraduates are international students and it’s a similar split for the graduate program. The majority are from Asian countries but we have more than 70 countries represented at the university.
SWO: Do the local hotels, casinos and restaurants have any input into your program content?
SS: Yes, absolutely. We’re currently running some three-hour focus groups with restaurant owners and managers, asking what skillset they need to see in future leaders.
What does it take to be manager of a five-star restaurant in the Belllagio, for example?
We want to be educating students on things that will be relevant in the future.
SWO: Can you tell us a bit more about the work international students do during their studies?
SS: Our international students are allowed to work here legally as part of their course.
We require our students to have 1,000 hours of work experience plus internships. They’re able to get their 1,000 hours working in town. By filling out proper paperwork at our international office they can keep track of their hours.
SWO: What are the career prospects for international students?
SS: Some of our international students end up in Las Vegas if they have the correct language skills.
Las Vegas, as you can imagine, has a huge international population of visitors, and they often like to speak in their own language. So for some students it really works out great because they can get jobs that use their language skills and can sometimes even stay in the country, although it’s harder.
As the international hospitality moves to the East, there will be a growing need for workers and managers.
My hope is that more international students will come to America, maybe spend a year on the English language program becoming fluent in English, then taking a four-year program before spending a year working with a US company after they graduate. After that they will be able to take what they know to that same US company in their home country and put it to good use. They will be fluent in English, they will understand Western culture and the culture of the brand where they have been working. And they will be able to step into a management-level position at that brand’s property in their own country. That’s a much better approach than if the company hired a Swiss general management to come in to run the property.
SWO: What jobs have some of your recent graduates taken?
SS: One recent grad went right into Expedia to work in revenue management, another became assistant revenue manager at the Tropicana.
One student who graduated less than a year ago is now western regional manager for Burger King.
We’re not really preparing our students for their first job but their third. So, though a fair number of our graduates start as front office managers, the training we’ve given them enables them to move up to more senior roles much quicker. As I said, every president on the Strip is one of our graduates.
We work with every major company and we consider ourselves a partner with every company. Some people are Four Seasons people. Some are Bellagio people. Some want to work in MGM Grand. We just want them to work in the right place for them
And we want industry to say 'I’m going to hire an UNLV student and I’m going to pay them more because I’m not just hiring an employee; I’m making an investment in the future of my business.'
SWO: What’s on the horizon?
SS: We are currently raising funding for a new building that will have a language lab and here we will teach English and Spanish, but also hopefully Mandarin and Arabic because that’s where the growth is.
We also want to own restaurant management. If you’ve gone to the Culinary Institute and you’re ready for your next step we want you to come to UNLV where you will learn the art, science and management side of running a restaurant.
SWO: Last thoughts?
SS: There’s so much opportunity in Las Vegas. Sometimes what we can teach our students, industry can’t. Sometimes what industry teaches the students, academics can’t. So let’s make sure we are teaching different things so they get a well-rounded picture.
Photography: Las Vegas panorama by John Rogers, UNLV student, UNLV campus, Las Vegas at night by Tim Shields, UNLV culinary student, The Bellagio by Louiseana Borges, UNLV graduates, Leaving Las Vegas sign by Michael Koukoullis.
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