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National Restaurant Association - Sustainability on course at U. North Texas

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Sustainability on course at U. North Texas

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As more restaurant companies embrace sustainability at their respective business operations, the need for managers in that field has begun to grow.

Because of that increased interest, the University of North Texas in Denton is offering a graduate-level program in sustainable tourism that teaches hospitality management students how to run greener restaurants, hotels and other foodservice-related businesses.

The school launched the program last year, and it is believed to be the first-ever of its kind. The first half of the two-year curriculum focuses on the practical and technical aspects of running a sustainable business while the second year concentrates on the more theoretical aspects of sustainable hospitality.

Students spend the year in Costa Rica, where sustainability practices are well integrated into the private sector, studying at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, which is known by its Spanish acronym, CATIE. Additionally, working abroad also gives the degree candidates a feel for the international market.

"What we hope is that these students will go out and work at a high level in a corporation and have an impact on that corporation's direction," said Lea Dopson, chairman of UNT's hospitality management program. "We [can] see them going out to the major chains. They will have the ability to think strategically."

Dopson said she views the program as a way of elevating restaurant or hotel sustainability specialists into true professionals working off of a base of knowledge instead of just a passion for the cause.

"We're ahead of the curve," she asserted.

UNT has yet to award its first Masters of Science in international sustainable tourism, or MIST, degree. Four students currently are studying in Costa Rica, and nine others are taking the first-year round of classes at the Denton campus. The school does not intend to enroll more than 20 students in any given year.

Many of the current enrollees have a restaurant background, while others come from the sciences, business community and recreation management.

The program already has fielded inquiries from institutions or individuals in Thailand, Spain, Ecuador, Peru and China.

"It's kind of a global demand, and there aren't a lot of academic options out there," said Dan Spears, who heads the faculty for MIST.

To help meet that academic demand, UNT last month invited Chris Moyer, subject matter expert for the National Restaurant Association's Conserve Sustainability Education Program, to teach students about sustainability in the restaurant industry.

Moyer, who taught an introductory class via SKYPE connection, said the experience was both rewarding and beneficial ‑ for himself and the students.

"These students represent the future of the industry," Moyer said. "Having this taught in the classroom is paramount for all sustainability efforts the industry hopes to capitalize on going forward. Through these people, we're reaching a critical mass ‑ those who represent the future of the industry and those who are currently employed in it.

"From the students' perspective," he continued, "I think it was beneficial for them to be able to speak to and ask questions of someone who has been in the industry and has hands-on experience. A lot of their questions didn't fall into the one-size-fits-all category and I was able to answer those questions for them and lay out the landscape for those students who are looking forward to long careers in sustainability."

 

Pictured, top right: Graduate students from North Texas University's sustainability program on a field trip in Costa Rica

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