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Niagara University's tourism internships take students far from classroom

Travel broadens the horizons in both literal and figurative ways. Nobody knows that better than the students in Niagara University's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, whose internships can take them from five-star resorts on Italy's Lake Como to the Amazon rainforests near Machu Picchu, Peru.

The college's dean, Kurt Stahura, Ph.D., said every senior he interviews before graduation who has had an international internship mentions that when he asks what had the most impact on them. "It transforms you," he said. "I think an international experience is a rite of passage, as well as a segue into a career."

The college, which became only the seventh in the country to be accredited in 1993, has more than 300 students, said Stahura. It offers bachelor's degrees in hotel and restaurant management, tourism and recreation management and sport management. The college also offers master's-level courses, and is working to set up two master's degrees in business administration, one in international tourism and hospitality management and a second in sport management. "This is exciting as we work with the business school on this," said Stahura.

Plenty of options exist for students to do internships in the United States, said Stahura, including at the Waldorf-Astoria and the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, and elite country clubs in Atlanta and Chevy Chase, Md. But the dean is proudest of three programs that place students across the world.

Since 2004, 10 students from the college have worked full-time for 10 weeks in nine luxury hotels in Lake Como, a resort on Italy's border with Switzerland. Students must complete at least one year of Italian to participate in the program. Stahura said graduates who have that experience on their resumes "are highly recruited by the best employers in the industry."

Dr. Kurt Stahura runs the Niagara University College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, which places its students in internships all around the world. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

An 11-week program held in Lima and Cusco, Peru, offers students a cultural immersion experience that includes Spanish language classes, internships at various companies, volunteer work at local schools, and a range of excursions that include Machu Picchu, the visually stunning and mysterious Lost City of the Incas, nestled in the Andes.

The Peruvian program "is very moving," said Stahura. "It's geared toward community service, and is very impactful. The students see other parts of the world and ways that others live that they never would experience."

Monica Smith, who came to Niagara University from the Indianapolis area, participated in the Peru Cultural Immersion Program from May to August of 2016. "It was amazing," she said of the experience, after which she studied for one more semester before graduating in December.

She said the program "appealed to me because it was not only about going to another country and studying, but also going on adventurous excursions, like to the jungle for a few days. We hiked to Machu Picchu. We did awesome things that challenged us, but then we also worked."

Smith said she sought out the challenge of working in a country where a different language is spoken. "That's far different than working in America," she said. "It's very interesting and it challenged me, and I wanted something that would challenge me."

Niagara University interns prepare for the Inti Raymi Parade in traditional Peruvian garb. They are, from left, Carly Shank, Erin Clark, Megan Dunn and Monica Smith.

Her internships involved working as a management intern in hotels in Lima and in Cusco. "We went through different departments in the hotel, shadowing managers, doing grunt work, events, restaurants, front desk, pretty much everything," she said. While she described herself as "pretty good" in Spanish, she was not fluent at first, she said, so it was an adventure to communicate with co-workers. "There was one girl who spoke a few words of English, so we were trading our few words of Spanish and English to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. But we got it!"

Stahura also mentioned a German dual degree program that requires students to spend their senior year studying in Bad Honnef, Germany, a spa town in the Rhine River Valley. After completing course work and a thesis, students earn degrees from Niagara University and the International University of Applied Sciences in Bad Honnef.

"Dual degrees and international experiences are the kind of differentiators that make applicants unique to employers," said Stahura. "So we are also trying to prepare unique skilled worldly, aware, critically thinking graduates. I think that the international opportunities speak to all of that."

Smith said she attended Niagara University because "I just fell in love. It's a great school and a great program. The dean, professors and all the administration are so willing to help." She is job-searching on the East Coast, exploring opportunities in events, hotels and marketing. "The process is going well," she said.

Stahura said the future looks bright for the program's graduates. "There are times when things are trending and times when they are less so, and right now tourism is trending in a very, very strong way," he said.

The college not only sends its students out into the world, it also enrolls students from all over. "We have a very strong international reputation," he said. "The international programs speak to the field itself, but also speak to the international program and the experiences we provide them.That’s a reflection of Niagara Falls’ success and people recognizing that it’s a robust field that is boundless in terms of opportunities."

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