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HRTM, New Mexico restaurants team up

One of New Mexico State University's fastest-growing schools is forming a new partnership to increase the number of Hispanics in the hospitality and food service industry - and provide these students with money to attend college.

ool of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management is teaming up with the New Mexico Restaurant Association on PATHWAYS, a new project funded by a $289,000 grant over three years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It accomplishes the goal of a land-grant institution," said Priscilla Bloomquist, PATHWAYS project director. "The grant will allow us to reach across the entire state to those students who have an interest in the hospitality industry, but may not have thought college was an option."

The goal of the program is to increase the number of Hispanics involved in the management and ownership of restaurants and other related businesses. Restaurant association estimates show the industry brings in more than $2 billion dollars a year in sales and makes up more than 10 percent of the state's overall employment. It is the second largest private sector industry in the state.

"We are hoping to accomplish two goals," said Victoria Sanchez Martinez, development director for the New Mexico Restaurant Association. "We are hoping to develop our future workforce, and we're striving to enhance the professionalism within our industry.

"There's more to the hospitality industry than just being a line cook or a server," Martinez added. "There is much more beyond that, such as kitchen managers, food and beverage directors, special event coordinators, and catering managers."

PATHWAYS also will help hospitality students pay for their education at NMSU, through $110,000 in targeted scholarships. Two additional scholarship programs, ProStart and Lodging Management, are available through the restaurant association.

"The student in the rural areas and those who are disadvantaged or minorities students otherwise might not see a way to afford school," Martinez said. "With PATHWAYS, the lottery scholarship and our programs, paying for a college education isn't impossible anymore."

Integral to the new program is the presence of a recruiter/mentor based out of Albuquerque who will work closely with New Mexico high schools to make sure students, teachers and counselors are aware of the opportunities available through HRTM.

"It helps us connect geographically to all of New Mexico," Bloomquist said. "That's something we couldn't do from Las Cruces because there is such a great distance between us and the student population in the northern part of the state."

She added that the recruiter/mentor will help develop strategies for the students before they reach NMSU. It also allows for a relationship to be developed between the student and someone affiliated with the university, who can advise them on a variety of issues, including which classes to take in high school, and even which classes to avoid taking.

"Plus," Bloomquist added, "we can help them be prepared for college. A lot of these students meet their graduation requirements, but they don't meet the admission requirements.

"We want to make sure they have what they need to hit the ground running when they get here, and not waste time - and money - trying to make up what they should have learned in high school."

Martinez, herself a 1999 graduate with a degree in HRTM, said the program also gives the school more exposure. She didn't even know it was being offered at NMSU until she was flipping through a course catalog.

"I just happened to find it," she said. "Then I saw the interesting classes they offered, like event management, planning and hotel management, I was hooked. I found what I love."

Victor Venegas
August 31, 2006