New hospitality program prepares students for growing industry
JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) ? If it’s not a bank or a church, then it seems like every new development in Jonesboro these days is a new restaurant.
The growing hospitality industry in Craighead County has created a number of jobs that the students from a new program hope to soon fill.
This year, the ASU-Newport campus in Jonesboro welcomed the very first class of students into its new hospitality services program. School officials hope the program will prepare students, like Donna Grissom, to be just what an employer has ordered.
Grissom developed a love for food after spending so much time in the kitchen with her family.
“My mom’s always cooking,” she said, “and my dad’s always making something.”
When she graduated high school, she decided to become a chef and is now working toward that dream close to her hometown of Hoxie. She’s part of the inaugural group of students studying hospitality services at ASU-Newport in Jonesboro.
“It’s getting my foot in the door,” she said, “and I can further my education as I grow.”
The hospitality program includes two tracks. Grissom chose to pursue the culinary side, while some of her classmates are learning management.
“They’re really getting a wide variety of materials to use and equipment to learn on,” said Jessica Wrenfrow, the hospitality services program director.
Wrenfrow says the school developed this program after noticing a growing need locally for trained hospitality workers both in the front and the back of the house.
“What we want is for [the students] to be as knowledgeable as possible and to go into their work area, and their managers or their superiors say, ?Wow, that student has been very well-trained and they are ready to go to work today,'” she said.
Wrenfrow says she realized quickly how much interest people had in this program based on the enrollment.
“Within two-and-a-half weeks of school starting, we were already full for the fall program,” she said. “We already have a waiting list for this spring, so I think that speaks a lot to the program and the area we’re in with restaurants booming and things like that.”
The school built an entirely new facility to house this program exclusively. Students can not only practice their skills in their own dining room but also in a state-of-the-art kitchen that would make any chef proud.
“We have an electric side of the kitchen. We have a gas side of the kitchen so that they’re learning both of those methods,” Wrenfrow said. “We also have specialty equipment for them to use, like an electric smoker [and] a blast chiller. We even have a cotton candy machine for them to learn on.”
“We [also] have service ware for them so that they can set up banquets and do food presentations and things like that,” she added, “so I think we’ve equipped them with a wonderful kitchen and they can put their knowledge to good use.”
The school will bring in another new class of 18 to 20 students in the spring, but people do not have to enroll full-time to utilize the kitchen. The program plans to host continuing education classes on various types of cooking as well as hold other special events in the upcoming months.