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Former Niagara University business school dean Gary D. Praetzel will lead the university's Institute of Travel, Hotel and Restaurant Administration into the 21st century as its new director.

On Praetzel's agenda are forging closer ties with local tourism interests and further expanding the Institute's strong emphasis on international experience.

But Praetzel said he and his staff will first study "how to improve the learning experience for students, because that guides everything."

He said his staff's job also will be to provide "the greatest possible number of experimental opportunities" it can for the 200 students enrolled in the Institute.

"We want a living curriculum closely associated with industry," he said. "Students have a number of experiences in industry before they graduate."

Praetzel pointed out that each Institute graduate must have 600 hours of work experience in his or her field and that the Institute has "well-developed co-ops (cooperative agreements with area businesses), so they gain additional experience that way."

Stan Rydelek, president of the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his organization has formed "a wonderful relationship with the Institute."

"We have worked with the student base as well as with the instructors," he said. "We bring the students in as interns and it's been a very nice resource for us. And they get a chance to work at one of the world's top tourism attraction bureaus. We have even hired a few of them."

Under consideration for the future is "partnering more with the Institute to create a hospitality training program with the local hospitality industry," Rydelek said.

Unique to Niagara, Praetzel feels, are the Institute's weekly meetings whereby local industry leaders meet with the students to discuss jobs and trends.

And, over the past six years, 35 percent of the Institute's graduates have studied abroad.

"We are a leader in studying abroad, and this is a key interest for me," Praetzel said.

Niagara has a working relationship with schools in Strasbourg, France, and Engelberg, Switzerland. The Swiss school, Schiller International University, offers a working hotel on its campus, and attracts students from 125 countries.

"This affords our students a unique opportunity to interact with students from all over the world," Praetzel said. "It immerses them in many different cultures and gives them the ability to live and work with people from all different cultures, which is a necessary skill today."

Praetzel is proud of the Institute's 90 percent placement rate for grads in their chosen fields. The Institute also boasts 2,300 alumni and Praetzel hopes to strengthen their ties to the school during his tenure.

Praetzel also has ideas on how to boost the local tourism scene.

"We're trying to do our part by making our resources -- our faculty and our students -- available to the community," he said. "We're also talking about offering certificate programs to meet community needs.

"As a university, we can provide many services, for example, research work, and we can offer unbiased opinions," he said. "We feel we can bring our expertise to the community. We believe this could serve an important function. We could also be instrumental in setting up forums -- because that's a natural educational function."

The Institute began in 1968 and offers bachelor of science degrees in either travel/tourism administration or hotel and restaurant administration. It is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration. The baccalaureate program in travel/tourism is the oldest in the nation.

Praetzel joined Niagara University in 1978 as an economics professor in the College of Business. He served as dean of the college from 1984 to 1992, filling the dual role of director of the MBA program, which he continued to lead through 1997.

He holds a doctoral degree in economics from the State University at Buffalo, where he also received his bachelor's and master's degrees. Prior to joining Niagara University, he was an adviser to the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.

Praetzel began his new post Aug. 23, succeeding Carl D. Riegel, who accepted a new position in Florida.

"I think he will be a strong leader for the Institute," said Susan E. Mason, NU's vice president for academic affairs. "He brings a great deal of administrative experience to the position and the faculty and administration are excited about Dr. Praetzel pursuing this position.

"Dr. Praetzel has a clear vision for the future of the Institute," she continued. "He's developing a curriculum with the faculty and partnerships in the community. It's a very exciting time for the Institute. It has a good, strong history and a strong reputation, and we'll be building on that reputation with Dr. Praetzel's expertise."

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