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ECCC, MBCI partnering to offer new opportunities

Choctaw — New educational opportunities are coming to the Choctaw Hospitality Institute that will be open to employees of Pearl River Resort and residents of the area. East Central Community College and Pearl River Resort, which is owned and operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, formed a partnership to offer a two-year program in hotel and restaurant management technology beginning with the 2005-2006 school term. Classes will be taught in the resort’s state-of-the-art Choctaw Hospitality Institute (CHI) that opened in 2001.

A staunch supporter of educational opportunities, Chief Phillip Martin said, “Career development programs at Pearl River Resort will keep our associates continually learning, thus providing them the ability to build a rewarding and satisfying career.”

He added that the program will be offered to the general public as well as associates of the Choctaw resort, which includes Silver Star Hotel and Casino, Golden Moon Hotel and Casino, 14 restaurants and 1,066 hotel rooms.

Dr. Phil A. Sutphin , ECCC’s president, said the college looks forward to working with the resort in offering the much-needed program. He said the college has worked with the tribe since 1988 in various capacities.

“My basic mantra is that it’s a win/win situation for both parties,” he said. “We’re excited and expect to have the premiere hospitality training program in the nation. We’re pleased to partner with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to provide educational opportunities and jobs for our area.”

He said hotel and restaurant management technology is being offered as a result of two needs assessment surveys completed by associates at the resort and students enrolled in secondary vocational-technical centers in ECCC’s five-county district. Input regarding the program was also provided by CHI management.

“We are an accredited program and have the capability to provide an associate of applied science degree,” Sutphin said. “The CHI has all you could ask for in a facility to prepare students for careers as managers/supervisors in the hospitality and tourism industry.”

At the end of the program, students may opt to receive a certificate by successfully completing designated courses listed in the hotel and restaurant management concentration.

Best of classroom and hands-on experience

CHI executive director Tim Tubby said this program will offer a unique opportunity to those looking to enter the hospitality field or those working in the area and wanting to expand their knowledge. “The fact that it will be held at CHI will offer students not only a classroom setting but hands-on experience they can’t get anywhere but the workplace,” he said.

Sutphin said several students are already enrolled in the program. Because it’s a lab-based program, there will be only 20 students enrolled each year. Twenty more students will be added the second year. He also hopes to add a culinary component next year, bringing in another 20 students. That will require additional instructors and perhaps visiting chefs.

Tubby said the CHI is set up basically for the gaming industry. It has several classrooms where games and slot technology are taught and has a large kitchen. This year the institute trained 1,000 employees in March and 500 each of the other months.

“We started guest hospitality training trying to get all the employees through it before the busy season starts in June,” he said. “We have trainers from all the departments of the resort who teach basic skills.”

He said the program with the community college will enhance these basic classes, giving employees an opportunity to earn a degree. “This will accelerate their training, and they will have the opportunity to move into lower management,” he said. “Just walking around the property, I’ve had a few people express interest in it.”

Employees have been informed of the new program through bi-monthly meetings, a resort newsletter and e-mail. Classes will be offered during the day. Tubby said whether or not employees are allowed to attend during a work shift will be at the discretion of department supervisors. Some of the classes to be offered include hotel and restaurant management technology, computer applications, hospitality tourism, oral communication, English composition, applied business math and social studies. Additionally, Tubby said students can participate in supervised work programs.

Sutphin said the community college has been pushing for this type of program with the resort that is located 25 miles from the Decatur campus. “We said ‘You provide the facility, we’ll provide the program,’” he said. “We’ve been working with them in workforce development, and this is not a brand new thing for us. It’s a natural thing.”

He said ECCC’s Native American enrollment is 8% to 10% each year among the school’s 2,750 students attending for credit.

The college also has worked with 13,000 people in non-credit workforce training. Many of those are from the tribe.

“We will be there working with them in the hospitality industry as we have in workforce training,” Sutphin said. “We can add other components to make it better.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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