New hospitality program prepares students for growing industry

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – If it's not a bank or a church, thenit seems like every new development in Jonesboro these days is a newrestaurant.

The growing hospitality industry in Craighead County hascreated a number of jobs that the students from a new program hope to soonfill.

This year, the ASU-Newport campus in Jonesboro welcomed thevery first class of students into its new hospitality services program. School officialshope the program will prepare students, like Donna Grissom, to be just what anemployer has ordered.

Grissom developed a love for food after spending so muchtime in the kitchen with her family.

"My mom's always cooking," she said, "and my dad's alwaysmaking something."

When she graduated high school, she decided to become a chefand is now working toward that dream close to her hometown of Hoxie. She's partof the inaugural group of students studying hospitality services at ASU-Newportin Jonesboro.

"It's getting my foot in the door," she said, "and I canfurther my education as I grow."

The hospitality program includes two tracks. Grissom choseto pursue the culinary side, while some of her classmates are learningmanagement.

"They're really getting a wide variety of materials to useand equipment to learn on," said Jessica Wrenfrow, the hospitality servicesprogram director.

Wrenfrow says the school developed this program after noticinga growing need locally for trained hospitality workers both in the front andthe back of the house.

"What we want is for [the students] to be as knowledgeableas possible and to go into their work area, and their managers or theirsuperiors say, 'Wow, that student has been very well-trained and they are readyto go to work today,'" she said.

Wrenfrow says she realized quickly how much interest peoplehad in this program based on the enrollment.

"Within two-and-a-half weeks of school starting, we werealready full for the fall program," she said. "We already have a waiting listfor this spring, so I think that speaks a lot to the program and the area we'rein with restaurants booming and things like that."

The school built an entirely new facility to house thisprogram exclusively. Students can not only practice their skills in their owndining room but also in a state-of-the-art kitchen that would make any chefproud.

"We have an electric side of the kitchen. We have a gas sideof the kitchen so that they're learning both of those methods," Wrenfrow said. "Wealso have specialty equipment for them to use, like an electric smoker [and] ablast chiller. We even have a cotton candy machine for them to learn on."

"We [also] have service ware for them so that they can setup banquets and do food presentations and things like that," she added, "so I thinkwe've equipped them with a wonderful kitchen and they can put their knowledgeto good use."

The school will bring in another new class of 18 to 20students in the spring, but people do not have to enroll full-time to utilizethe kitchen. The program plans to host continuing education classes on varioustypes of cooking as well as hold other special events in the upcoming months.

If anyone is interested in learning more about the programor what's coming up on the calendar, contact Jessica Wrenfrow at 870-680-8733or visit this link.

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