WSCC expanding learning options in hospitality, culinary arts fields

Walters State Community College has received a $985,266 grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to expand learning opportunities in the fields of hospitality business and culinary arts.

The funding is part of the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) grant initiative and was funded by the Tennessee General Assembly. The program facilitates the alignment of local workforce and education partners to facilitate employer-driven career pathways.

The grant will fund the Student Hospitality Apprenticeship Experience (SHAPE), a wide-ranging educational project with the goal of increasing the number of skilled employees for the tourism industry.

“This grant will enable us to expand training in two key areas of the tourism industry, hospitality business and culinary arts,” Dr. Tony Miksa, president of Walters State, said. “With these funds, we plan to add new apprenticeship programs, increase dual enrollment classes, and develop creative ways to increase interest in these career fields. We are now in an even better position to meet the workforce needs of Sevier and surrounding counties.”

Walters State offers technical certificates and associate degrees in hospitality business and culinary arts. The college’s Sevier County Campus is home to the Maples Institute for Culinary Arts, the first program accredited by the Culinary Arts Institute in Tennessee.

Research completed in preparing the grant revealed that record-setting visitation numbers for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park increased the need for workers with specific skill sets for the hospitality industry. Seventeen businesses surveyed by the Sevier County Economic Development Council revealed the need for 1,150 additional employees.

SHAPE includes four components. The first, Career Awareness, began implementation last spring, with events showing students the variety of jobs available in hospitality business and culinary arts.

The second component, Career Pathways Expansion, will involve a more substantive outreach to high school students. Dual enrollment classes focused on hospitality business and culinary arts are included. A limited number of pre-apprenticeships will also be available.

The third component, Hospitality/Culinary Programming, will expand the reach of hospitality and culinary arts programs. The college will work with high schools in Cocke, Jefferson and Sevier counties to create career awareness. Funding will also add a butchery and meat cutting certificate to the Maples Institute of Culinary Arts. This will be the first such program in Tennessee. A Mobile Culinary Arts Learning Lab (food truck) will be designed and funded to foster career awareness, increase entrepreneurial focus, and better prepare students for the workforce.

The fourth component, Culinary Bootcamp, offers a three-day workshop for 25 high school instructors. Guest chefs will teach and share techniques.

Dr. Jama Spicer-Sutton, dean of the Sevier County Campus, has already hosted career exploration days through grant funds and collaborations with local hospitality firms.

We recently hosted high school students but we plan to go into middle schools,” Spicer-Sutton said. “This is really an eye-opening experience. They realize all the different jobs that are available in the industry locally. Many are surprised to learn about the training available at little or no cost. I am very excited about the new projects funded through this grant.”

Walters State’s Division of Workforce Training will use some of the funds to expand current apprenticeship programs. Apprentice agreements exist between the college, area employees and the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“The hospitality industry is integral to the economy of East Tennessee.  These funds will enable Walters State to increase our programs and services.” said Dr. John LaPrise, vice president for educational outreach. His area includes the Division of Workforce Training.