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USM, AAA help students cruise into tourism careers

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USM, AAA help students cruise into tourism careers

PORTLAND — With the summer tourist season coming to a close and visits from leaf-peepers just around the corner, what better way to learn about the tourism industry than on a cruise ship?

The University of Southern Maine's Tourism and Hospitality department, along with AAA Northern New England and Holland America Line, held a fundraiser on Aug. 22 aboard the MS Veendam cruise ship to benefit a new class at USM.

A cruise class, no less.

"We think it’s really important to offer travel classes to students, give them a chance to see the world and apply the knowledge that they learn," USM tourism and hospitality professor Tracy Michaud Stutzman said at the Ocean Gateway terminal on Friday, Aug. 22.

"We’re fortunate enough to start a conversation with AAA and they saw a benefit in working with students to create a special event that they could market to their passengers," Stutzman said, "and in the meantime it would give our students a chance to learn new skills work with an international corporation."

The event included a self-guided tour of the ship, followed by a three-course luncheon and presentations by individuals from USM and AAA. Tickets for the luncheon were $30. Stutzman said AAA was going to match whatever was raised, up to $5,000.

"Traditionally, we’ve been pretty heavy supporters of automotive programs in the technical colleges for obvious reasons," said Eric Baxter of AAA, who will oversee the program with Stutzman. "But we have 500 employees in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and 25 percent of them are in the travel industry, travel and tourism. We operate travel agencies in all of our 18 offices, and so it makes sense that we should be promoting travel and tourism programs as well. So that’s why we’re doing it."

Friday's event will benefit a week-long cruise from Boston to Bermuda in May, which is open to the public, but which will also serve as a class for students in the program. Students will plan a surprise event for when passengers reach Bermuda.

"The fundraiser will help provide scholarships, so students can take this cruise and earn credits for it," Stutzman said.

Students and the general public were able to sign up for the cruise at the luncheon. Stutzman said there were about 100 people on board, although only two students were at the luncheon.

"Being able to gain some experience working with AAA, gaining class credits, and the experience of working with international companies and as a tourism student, I think it’s really important to travel," third-year student Haylee Munson said. "A lot of college students take advantage of the ability to travel while they’re in college, but I think it’s even more vital for a student who’s studying travel to not just do it in theory, but also experience it."

In addition to planning the cruise event, AAA will be working with the university's Tourism and Hospitality Department to explore internship opportunities.

The Tourism and Hospitality program at USM has was created in 2012. There are currently 50 majors enrolled, and six people have graduated from the program.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.