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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Hospitality Program Founder Retires

LAS CRUCES -- When Ron Cox was lured away from Florida's sunny eastern coastline to create a hospitality program at New Mexico State University, he was skeptical about moving to a place that was "all beach and no ocean." But the climate, the landscape and the friendly people captivated him. He spent the next 13 years as director and, later, professor with NMSU's hospitality program. Cox retired January 31.

The hospitality program Cox developed in 1988 for NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics started with just 60 students. Since that time, he has worked with 531 graduates. Today, more than 300 students study in the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management (HRTM). The program was the first of its kind in New Mexico and NMSU remains the only university in the state offering a major program in the hospitality field.

Cox said he had aggressive growth plans for the program when he created it, envisioning 500 students enrolled within 10 years. The program grew rapidly, with 240 students enrolled in its fourth year.

"Then we hit a plateau in the '90s," Cox said. "The university had zero growth rate for a few years and student enrollment decreased, state funding decreased. We were affected by that, but now we're back on track."

Cox also had a vision of building a campus hotel to serve university needs, as well as offer hands-on experience to HRTM students. Although he hasn't given up on the idea, funding for it remains a hurdle.

"We've been struggling with that for years, using whatever facilities and methods we can to give our students the practicum side of the hospitality business," he said. "We implemented an internship program that students are required to take between their junior and senior years. This forces them to go out in the industry for 12 to 16 weeks and get that practical experience."

Students serve internships in Santa Fe and Albuquerque as well as Las Vegas and Florida. Cox said corporations like Marriott, Hyatt and Darden Restaurants train interns and often hire them after graduation. NMSU's program boasts a placement rate of more than 90 percent. Graduates are typically hired as managers in training.

Cox's former students now work in many levels of the hospitality industry. Some are general managers or owners of hotels and restaurants. Others work in university food service and convention and tourism bureaus.

NMSU's four-year bachelor's degree program offers options in hotel management, restaurant and food service management and tourism management, as well as classes in gaming management, trade show management, and meeting and convention management.

Associate professor Priscilla Bloomquist joined NMSU's program in its infancy, two months after Cox was hired. "I have been so fortunate to work for someone like him," she said. "He touched a lot of people's lives--students and colleagues."

Prior to working at NMSU, Cox built the hospitality management program at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., and taught in hospitality departments at Purdue University, Providence College in Providence, R.I., United States International University in San Diego, and Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I. He has also taught in London and Nairobi, Kenya. He is a certified public accountant and a certified hotel administrator.

Cox plans to return to his home state of Pennsylvania to be near family members.