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Saturday, May 1, 2010


Rhonda Vought of Emporium, left, and Heather Jordan of Tiona, right, work in the kitchen with Claudine Cooper, instructor of hospitality management at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, which is graduating its first class of hospitality management students starting the major four years ago.


BRADFORD, Pa. – When the students at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford march across the stage at commencement Sunday, nine of them will be Pitt-Bradford’s first class of hospitality management graduates.

Pitt-Bradford launched its hospitality management program in 2006, at the same time it started new majors in accounting and secondary education, but unlike those programs, which were based in existing majors, hospitality management had to be built from scratch.

Students majoring in hospitality management are prepared for careers in resort or hotel management, restaurant or institutional food service, event planning, sports and entertainment facilities, on cruise ships or anywhere service-management skills are needed.

The program was started in part to help boost the economic development of the area. After looking at several top programs, the school designed the program after the curriculum at Niagara University in Lewiston, N.Y., but tailored it to fit Pitt-Bradford’s strengths.

A patchwork of faculty and staff taught the first classes, which included some standard business management courses, but also more specialized classes, which were taught by Rick Esch, who started his career at Pitt-Bradford in food management, and Justin Work, the executive chef for Metz dining services.

Esch inspired several of the members of the first class to become hospitality management majors.

Heather Jordan of Tiona was one of those students.

“He inspired a lot of us,” Jordan said, looking around a room of fellow students taking the senior capstone course. Some of the students had taken Esch’s course on a whim, having started out in nursing, business management or another area.

Something about the challenge of pleasing customers, the allure of working on a cruise ship, the satisfaction of planning a flawless event appealed to them.

Curtis Buchanan of Bradford by way of Bristol, Tenn., was a computer programmer, but “saw the opportunity to have some fun with my career.”

As a programmer, he said, “I made good money, but it wasn’t fun.”

While pursuing his new career in hospitality, Buchanan spent the spring semester of 2009 as an intern with Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., where he was a food vendor in the Animal Kingdom. His favorite part was “serving guests and seeing them smile. The language barriers are nonexistent.”

Buchanan also saw that a powerhouse entertainer like Disney was “85 percent recession proof.”

Students also had the chance along the way to travel to food shows, where Rhonda Vought of Emporium met celebrity chef Tyler Florence.

But being part of the first class at Pitt-Bradford had two sides. The students are close-knit from being pioneers and working on unique projects such as advising the new owner of The Option House restaurant in downtown Bradford on his operation, but they admitted to feeling a bit like guinea pigs.

In 2007, Pitt-Bradford hired a program director, James Dombrosky, who began shaping the program. Last year, Claudia Cooper joined the faculty to teach culinary classes, Food and Beverage Cost Control and special topics courses.

Building a program was part of the allure for Dombrosky, who had been teaching hospitality management at West Liberty State College in Wheeling, W.Va., before coming to Pitt-Bradford.

Dombrosky worked in hospitality while he was still in college before beginning a career with Trans World Airlines, where he trained travel agents how to use TWA’s computerized reservations system. He went on to work in management for TNT Vacations, a Caribbean tour operator, where he developed the Pittsburgh market.

“I love both teaching and program development, and to build a new program at the University of Pittsburgh was a great opportunity,” he said.

The graduating students wish they could take some of the courses now being offered, but are glad their interests and input went into shaping what those classes would be.

Most of the students put in far more than the 600 practicum hours required by the program. They worked in a family restaurant, as a fine dining server at the Seneca Allegany Casino, as a manager at McDonalds, as a manager at Microtel, for Metz on campus and as a chef at Glendorn, a luxury resort a stone’s throw from campus.

They now hope to combine their book learning and practical experience to work for cruise lines, manage food service operations and someday own their own luxury hotels.

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