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Tourism degree would help diversify economy, profs say

Dec 6, 2017 By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff Writer

Professors at the University of Wyoming are hoping to find favor with the UW Board of Trustees in order to add a new academic program: A degree in natural resources recreation and tourism.

If approved, the degree would be the first new academic program added to the university's catalog in years.

Doug Wachob, the academic program director at the school's Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, told The Ranger the new degree would help diversify Wyoming's economy - an effort Gov. Matt Mead and state legislators have been working on amid the state's economic downturn.

While there are plenty of people who work entry-level jobs in Wyoming's tourism sector, Wachob said few of those employees have the skills or knowledge to advance as "innovators and leaders" in the industry.

And because the state -- and the university -- doesn't have a strong support system for tourism, people interested in working at high levels in that industry often end up leaving the state.

"There's a gigantic brain drain here," Wachob said. "They want to stay but don't feel like the opportunities are there."

Degree coordinator Dan McCoy said the program would fill a key gap in UW's academic offerings: Although tourism is the state's second largest industry, the university currently has no program dedicated to the subject.

McCoy said that tourism is "a very diverse industry" that, in Wyoming, means "really big business coming especially to the northwestern portion of the state."

Industry need

The degree has been in the works for about a year and a half, during which time Haub School staff members have solicited information from the tourism industry about its needs.

After holding focus groups and "listening sessions," a committee developed a report a year ago and then put together a framework for the degree.

Bruce Palmer, the admissions director for the National Outdoor Leadership School, also has been involved in development of the program.

The program has received input from Gary Collins as well. He used to be Mead's liaison for the Northern Arapaho Tribe and now sits on Haub's advisory committee.

Collins said he became particularly interested in the new program offering because of the benefits it could bring for Fremont County.

"This one really struck a nerve, because we are in tourism and we do have natural resources," he said. "We have a lot of outfitters right now that do OK but could probably be better."

Seeking approval

Once the team at the Haub School finalized the curriculum and other details for the degree, the approval process began in September.

The UW Board of Trustees, which Wachob said has so far been supportive of the degree, could decide whether to approve the program as early as January. If approved at that time, the program would go live in the fall of 2018.

McCoy said the program is mainly focused on preparing students to work in the private sector, stressing that the curriculum needs to be "be bathed in very professional and industry-based experience."

However, McCoy said the relationship between public and private organization is important for all people working in the tourism industry to understand.

"Even if you're working for a federal agency, you need to understand how businesses operate because you would be doing permitting," he said. "And if you're a business, you need to understand how federal agencies work."

Students in the program would pick one of four concentrations: business management and marketing, recreational resource management, outdoor recreation leadership, or cultural and international tourism.

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