Maryville College welcoming new hospitality major focused on Southern Appalachia

Maryville College is adding a major this fall designed specifically for the growing tourism and hospitality industry in this region.

The “Hospitality and Regional Identity” major will focus on how location can influence and enhance the customer experience and is part of the college’s positioning itself as “of and for the region.”

In a news release Maryville College said the major “will offer signature learning opportunities at RT Lodge and other distinctive dining, lodging and event establishments in the area.”

That includes plans to renovate the 105-year-old House in the Woods on the campus and operate it as a guest house for visitors to the college.

Maryville College has been discussing the major for several years, and the board of directors approved it last month.

College President Bryan Coker said in the news release that recent increases in tourism and evolution in the local industry “especially ‘high-end’ opportunities,” make this the right time to start the program.

Industry partners, whom the college plans to reveal later this year, pledged donations to help fund the new courses, a new instructor position and marketing for the program.

“Local hospitality leaders were consulted about the industry’s current and future needs, and we learned of the need for skilled permanent employees who know hospitality and the larger field of management more generally, but who are also knowledgeable about — and appreciative of — the regional context,” Coker explained in the news release.

“We know that sustainable management of natural and scenic resources and respectful curation of cultural heritage demand a broader range of skills and background knowledge than straightforward management of hospitality properties,” he said. “With our liberal arts curriculum, we are confident that we can deliver a unique program that will prepare students for successful, interesting and meaningful careers.”

RT Lodge, House in the Woods

Maryville College officials said they are working with architects on plans for the House in the Woods and expect to release details in the coming months.

After the renovation is complete, they said, “it’s very likely that students will have responsibilities for assisting with guest accommodations and managing the operations of the home and surroundings.”

Many of the hospitality students also will take part in “experiential learning opportunities” at RT Lodge, a restaurant, hotel and special event site located on campus and operated through a long-term lease by regional business leaders.

“Through our partnership with RT Lodge, we can provide students with a valuable four-year ‘hands-on’ experience that will help equip them with knowledge of local Appalachian food and culture — a contribution to the place-based education, which will be a distinctive of aspect of our program,” Coker said.

RT Lodge President Beth McCabe Holman said, “The college is a valuable resource to RT Lodge, and it is a privilege to interact with MC students in a working hospitality environment every day.”

The lodge’s general manager, Gary Doyle, said graduates of the program can translate their education into many areas beyond hotels and restaurants, including occupations in business, medicine, religion, sports, arts and education.

“Pairing those with the science of positive regional identity in a broader sense of hospitality would seem a natural field of study for any future city planner, chamber of commerce member or community development professional, among other diverse professions,” Doyle said.

Tourism trend

Blount County jobs related to hospitality and tourism have grown from just under 3,000 to more than 4,000 over the last seven years, according to Kim Mitchell, Blount Partnership director of tourism. Across the state tourism is the second largest industry, by numbers of employees. In 2020 visitors to Blount County spent $337 million, according to a report issued by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Blount County remains a top destination for travelers domestically and internationally,” Mitchell said, citing the scenic beauty, music, food, family fun, history, culture and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “All give us an edge against other areas.”

“Programs like this are crucial when it comes to continuing to educate people on the many assets of the region while offering insight into the administrative, operational and commercial activities that make any business a success,” said Bryan Daniels, Blount Partnership president/CEO.

MC added an environmental science major in 2021, and with the new hospitality major the private liberal arts college now offers 69 programs of study and certifications to undergraduates. The hospitality and regional identity major will require 58 credit hours, and students can earn a minor with 18 credit hours.

The college has developed four new courses focused on customer experience, marketing, management and operations, and regional identity through food and beverage. Students also will have option to study Appalachian cultural and social history, food traditions, religion, and the landforms, flora and fauna of the Great Smoky Mountains. Management professor Jenifer Greene will serve as coordinator of the program.

Source: Daily Times, by Amy Beth Miller

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit


Published June 8, 2022