This fall, Piedmont Athens is rolling out the red carpet with a new business concentration in hotel and tourism management. Students majoring in business administration will have an opportunity to gain real world experience in the hospitality industry.

“We are partnering with the Classic Center and area hotels,” President Mellichamp said. “The students will have paid internships.”

Like other Athens-only programs, the new concentration is a degree completion program. It is geared toward working adults, including those who have earned associate degrees from area tech schools and business students who have already earned 30 hours toward their degrees.

“The program is designed to have several corporate sponsorships along with the classes,” director of the Walker School of Business on the Athens campus Margaret Ryder said. “The new Hyatt, businesses in the Athens community, the foundation for the Classic Center, the Chamber of Commerce in both Athens and Oconee, and the Visitor’s Bureau will bring people in to speak to the classes, people from the industry, to review what the current needs are.”

In a town whose third-largest private industry is tourism, there is plenty of opportunity for career building. Tourism accounted for almost $300 million in spending, 2740 jobs and over $61 million in wages earned in 2016, according to the Georgia Department for Economic Development’s latest Economic Impact Report.

Ryder called the program the “brain child” of Paul Cramer, executive director of the Classic Center Authority in Athens.

“Hospitality in Athens has grown exponentially over the past 20 years and our industry now demands a person with hospitable service skills and outstanding business acumen,” Cramer said. “I have long hoped that one day we could have a four-year degree program that taught tourism management, a program founded in a business curriculum, and one focused on experiential learning.”

The new program, Cramer said, is much like other hospitality programs, except that Piedmont students will have a solid business foundation, and they will work for a semester in a chosen area of the field, a specific “pathway.”

“It may be professional food and beverage management, meeting planning, facility management, sports management, the music industry or tourism and marketing management,” Cramer said. “In each of these areas, the student will be teamed up with a professional in the industry. They will be provided a job description of what they will be expected to learn during their work experience. They will prepare a journal about their experience. They will be given an exam to ensure they have indeed learned the skills outlined from the onset. Finally, the student will have dialog with the professor and the industry partner to highlight any areas that need further explanation, as well as to make suggestions on how to improve the program.”

Ryder said that the core business classes are Piedmont’s responsibility in the partnership.

“We teach theory and the textbook and the thought process. The idea of working with people actually executing this is to give our students a much stronger foundation when they enter the working world. We want them to hit the ground running, to be ready to go and comfortable in this chosen industry. The sponsorships really help us with that.”

Cramer said the program will connect serious students with opportunities in Athens and throughout the world.

“These students are our future department heads and future leaders of our industry.”