Tourism management students at The University of Southern Mississippi are gaining first-hand information from industry professionals who, not so very long ago, were themselves Southern Miss students.
Utilizing a proactive approach to teaching, Southern Miss is using its graduates from the tourism management program to mentor current students. Dr. Catherine Price, professor and chair of the Southern Miss Department of Casino, Hospitality and Tourism Management, believesan academic program is greatly enhanced by adding the real-world experience of industry professionals. That’s a belief shared with her students.
“Having mentors who are recent graduates is the best part of this program,” said David Bozeman, a Southern Miss Gulf Coast student majoring in casino and resort management. “We meet industry execs from all over the coast and it’s just absolutely wonderful.”
Recently, students in one of the online tourism management courses were guests at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi. While at the Hard Rock, students met with executives, toured the property and were given words of encouragement from Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
“This is truly a unique opportunity for the students at Southern Miss,” said Gregory. “While casino management and tourism have had ups and downs over the years, the university really has this program where students can benefit from it. The benefit is not only learning about the industry, but at the end of the program, it’s the employment.”
The university’s tourism management degree program with casino and resort management emphasis uses the Industry Professionals Assistance in Students’ Success (iPASS) instructional model, which was developed by tourism management instructor Evelyn Green. The industry professionals involved in iPASS engage and involve student learning through guest lectures and also support firsthand learning by welcoming student groups to their agencies and properties.
Chris Kern, vice president of marketing at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is one Southern Miss Gulf Coast graduate who has played a large part in the mentoring program. In addition to hosting the Hard Rock property tour, Kern has served as a guest lecturer for the university’s casino and resort management emphasis program.
“I would have loved if they would have had something like this established when I was still at Southern Miss,” said Kern, who graduated in 2000. “All the students want to know how to get in or how to get started. While the degree does help, the casino industry is one of those businesses where you’ve really got to get your foot in the door. Then once your foot is in the door, the degree helps you to move up to the supervisor and manager positions.”
Students are not only meeting executives in the classroom and on property tours, they are also learning about the industry on many levels. Such was the case recently when several students took part in a Mississippi Gaming Commission meeting held at the IP Casino, Resort and Spa. Executives at IP have actively assisted in creating internship opportunities for Southern Miss students. At that meeting, the commission recognized students, faculty and mentors for their dedication in educating future industry leaders.
“One of our goals is to keep our graduates here in Mississippi,” said Anthony Del Vescovo, legal counsel for the Beau Rivage Casino Resort who also taught a course for the casino and resort management program. “The material covered in class describes how the casino regulatory process works. This produces a great foundation for the students who eventually enter the gaming industry.”
“As more students graduate and gain employment in the industry, the mentoring program will set itself up for continued success,” said Green. “Through these proactive techniques of getting students involved both in and out of the classroom, the Mississippi gaming industry is helping to develop future leaders.”
For more information about the Casino and Resort Management emphasis degree program at Southern Miss Gulf Coast, please visit www.usm.edu/gulfcoast/business.