Jon Mark Beilue: Adding to WT’s appeal

Jon Mark Beilue Mar 20, 2024
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Jon Mark Beilue: Adding to WT’s appeal

Two new business degrees bolster University’s offerings


Adapting and innovating.

Easy to say, but often hard to accomplish. The Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business at West Texas A&M University will launch two new degree offerings in fall 2024—a bachelor of science degree in hospitality and tourism management, and a master of science degree in strategic human resources management.

“As a university, you have to maintain a niche—unique reasons for enrolling at WT—and these two new degrees are examples of that,” said WT President Walter V. Wendler.

Both degree programs were approved in February by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. Classes are expected to begin in fall 2024, following final approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

For the master’s degree in the rapidly changing field of human resources, the niche is the strategic component. Those on the ground floor of curriculum believe WT will be one of only a handful to offer this component.

“We’ve done our research and as far as we can tell, there are only three other universities in the entire nation that have a master’s degree in human resources like this,” said Dr. Rahul Chauhan, associate professor of management and McCray Professor of Business. “Of those programs, our curriculum objectively and in my opinion is the most robust. It’s pretty unique. There’s really not that many programs like this nationwide, and none in Texas.”

The hospitality and tourism management offering will stay true to the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World, which focuses on regional needs that can also be applied beyond the Texas Panhandle.

“There’s a large amount of tourism that passes through Amarillo because of its location on Route 66, in addition to a lot of tourist events in the Amarillo area,” said Dr. Jonathan Shaffer, associate dean of undergraduate programs and Pickens Professor of Management. “Although Amarillo is not a tourist destination in the sense as maybe a beach resort or Disney World, there is still quite a bit of tourism.

“So for the students interested in those things, we will be able to give them the training and education to get involved in that field.”

The HR master’s degree is aligned with the cooperation of the Society of Human Resources Management and a local chapter, Panhandle Human Resources Association. The national HR organization is the recognized governing authority in the field with more than 325,000 members in nearly 200 countries.

“To have a direct relationship and taking their insight and modeling our curriculum based on their pillars, that’s something that is quite appealing,” Chauhan said. “But it’s also extremely rare to have a strategic focus within an HR master’s.

“That strategic component is unique in a sense that it takes it beyond technical expertise within the field of HR and starts to incorporate how HR assists other departments within business,” Chauhan continued. “How does HR help accounting? How does HR integrate with finance? How does that contribute to the betterment of the organization as a whole? The strategic element is more macro. It looks beyond the technical expertise of HR. So that’s the primary draw, the rarity and focus of this graduate degree.”

Randy Cazarez is the human resources director at Panhandle Community Services. He was the first student to receive a bachelor’s degree in management with an emphasis on human resources from WT in 2012.

“The field is ever-changing,” Cazarez said. “It’s changed dramatically in the four years I’ve been with Panhandle Community Services. You have to be adaptable. COVID showed us that. It’s something new every day. There’s a lot more in compliance, legal changes, many new things in benefits.”

Dr. Jillian Yarbrough, clinical assistant and professor of business management, began her study of human resources in 1997 after graduating from TCU. She earned both her master’s and doctorate in educational human resource development from Texas A&M University.

“The HR of 1997 and the HR of today are almost a completely different field,” Yarbrough said, “in the sense that we are thinking globally, thinking technology-based, thinking business partners. That is the HR of today, this leadership and ongoing understanding and alignment of people.”

Yarbrough said current HR leaders must identify, hire and retain employees as well as develop, sustain and innovate their business workforce.

“It now requires an advanced understanding of HR. How we prepare this strategic HR is critical in terms of preparing that high level of understanding that can create the competitive advantage within HR,” she said. “This next tool, this strategic HR management degree, will be preparing people to operate at that higher level as a business partner.”

Like with both new degree offerings, WT professors are on the ground floor in creating an approved curriculum, and not merely inheriting one. That strikes a chord.

“I feel a lot of pride. It’s inspiring,” Yarbrough said. “Working with Dr. (Andrew) Li and Dr. Chauhan has been a lot of hours and a lot of research. But it’s also been fun to work with those who are putting in a lot of effort and innovative thinking because they care about the students.

“The opportunity to teach in a focused program directly aligned with a discipline I love is very meaningful. But the most meaningful part is to create something with my colleagues that is of value to West Texas A&M and for the students.”

The undergraduate degree in hospitality and tourism management is a pathway into an industry that Shaffer said the numbers in Texas and the region support a new major in the field.

“The demand is there,” he said.

While the degree will be specific to tourism and hospitality, its foundation will be on fundamental business principles.

“The way the program is designed is to give the students a little bit of everything,” Shaffer said. “In the hospitality industry, you still need a core business background in accounting and finance. You have to be able to read the numbers in a medium to high-level position.

“It’s about understanding the ebb and flow of markets, basic supply and demand pricing, basic management and HR courses. How do we hire people? How do we find the best people for our organization? How do we provide those things and give a well-rounded background in business plus the additional course work in the tourism industry?

“There will be options for students – the required courses and also a number of courses to tailor the work needed to fit in the Panhandle and other places as well.”


Photo: Dr. Jillian Yarbrough, clinical assistant and professor of business management, Dr. Rahul Chauhan, associate professor of management and McCray Professor of Business, and Randy Cazarez, human resources director at Panhandle Community Services; know the importance of the new strategic human resources master's degree program at West Texas A&M University.


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