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Oregon State, Cornell Launch New Hospitality Program

Oregon State University is partnering with Cornell University to launch a new course all about hospitality. It’s aimed at the region’s service industries like hotels, restaurants and resorts.  As David Nogueras reports, the move is part of a broader strategy for OSU to integrate itself into the Central Oregon landscape  — and bring a little bit of ivy to the high desert.

David Nogueras / OPB
Students take notes during a course on hospitality at OSU-Csacades

It’s 8 am. Class isn’t supposed to start here in room 246 another half hour. But most of the students are here early to meet their professor for the next three days. Professor Rob Kwortnik dresses as you might imagine an ivy-league professor would dress:

A crisp blue blazer, khaki slacks, a button-down shirt and a red tie with neat diagonal stripes across the front.

But if his appearance or his honorary title is in the least bit intimidating, he quickly shatters that perception with a pre-class admission.

Kwortnik is a hotel nerd. And one of the first things the man in the blue blazer did when he arrived at his hotel room was snap a photo of the extra roll of toilet paper in the bathroom.

Dr. Rob Kwortnik: “There’s this little sticker on it over the fold, and the sticker says more dot dot dot. As in, ok if you need more he’s the extra roll. Which I thought was hilarious. I said that’s pretty funny. Again, hotel nerds you find that kind of stuff funny…”

If the laughter is any indication, Kwortnik is among peers here. The 12 students enrolled in the class all have ties to the hospitality industry in one way or another.

This is the first in a series of three-day classes put on in partnership with Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, widely regarded as one of the best in the world.

To start, OSU and Cornell will offer three classes at OSU-Cascades. Later courses will include Leading and Motivating in the Real World, and Strategic Pricing for Hotels.

Kwortnick is teaching Strategic Marketing for Hotels and Restaurants.

Dr. Rob Kwortnik: “And by strategic, I’m talking kind of helicopter view of how marketing kind of fits into the organization.”

The 11 of the 12 students are from Central Oregon. One flew in from California. But there’s a good cross-section of interests represented.

There’s a well-known Bend restaurateur who just opened his second restaurant. The city of Sisters sent someone from its Chamber of Commerce. There’s also representative from a major destination resort.

Professor Rob Kwortnik from Cornell University teaching at OSU-Cascades

David Nogueras / OPB

Nevertheless, Kwortnik starts with the basics: definitions:

Dr. Rob Kwortnik: “So let me throw it out there.  When you say, ‘What is marketing?’, could be the good the bad and the ugly. What is it? How do you define it? Who’s first up?”

Robert Bennington: “Well, I put down ‘attracting the most, right customers with the least amount of expense.’”

That’s Robert Bennington, one of the students in this inaugural class. He owns and manages vacation rental company in Sunriver.

Robert Bennington: “Because we’re a small business the idea of strategic marketing, we just never really have thought about that. It’s more just get it out there and experiment and make it happen and so when I found out that this opportunity was here, I just couldn’t miss that opportunity.”

Becky Johnson: “It’s really aimed at people who are already in the industry who want to hone their skills make the next step up with their company.”

Becky Johnston is a Vice President with OSU Cascades. She played a major role in bringing Cornell to Central Oregon.

Johnson was a top administrator at OSU in Corvallis before taking the job as heading up the Cascades campus two years ago.

Faculty members credit Johnson for taking Corvallis out of survival mode borne out of budget cuts and positioning the campus on a forward trajectory.

It was Johnston who first reached out to Cornell to bring their program to the West.

Over the next two years, OSU-Cascades plans to introduce new degrees specific to the Central Oregon economy. For starters, the school will offer a new undergraduate degree in hospitality management program in the fall to replace one that got axed during an earlier round of budget cuts.

Next year the school plans to offer a new type of sustainability degree. And this fall Johnson says OSU Cascades will offer a degree in energy engineering management.

Becky Johnston: “Energy is one of the new areas for Central Oregon and if we can start producing some students that can work in that area and hire some professors that can help work with the industry, we think that will be a good strategy for economic development for Central Oregon”.

Provided Johnson’s new direction takes hold for the Cascades campus, employers here should have access to a workforce trained in a new set of skills to meet the needs of the local economy.

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