SRU bolsters community outreach through partnership with Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau


People attending Villagefest in 2019

Slippery Rock University and the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau expect their new partnerships to provide skilled volunteer help for county activities such as VillageFest, an annual festival organized by Slippery Rock Development.

Jan. 15, 2020

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Slippery Rock University students will have greater access to more than 500 Butler County employers and the opportunity to collaborate with a network of businesses and organizations thanks to SRU's new partnership with the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau. The agreement is effective immediately. Mary Jo Ross, associate professor of hospitality, event management and tourism, will coordinate the initiative.

"When I came to SRU I knew we needed to advance the curriculum in the hospitality program but also integrate the program more within the community through partnerships like this," Ross said. "Relationships with organizations like the Tourism Bureau are extremely important for students to connect with an applied field of study. If students don't touch it, see it, feel it and work in it, they're not going to know if it's the right field for them, but (by working in the field) they'll also be able and know how to build on the skills that are needed."

Ross returned to her native Butler County to join the SRU faculty in 2019 after serving as a founding faculty member at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, where she formed partnerships for her programs with Visit Orlando, which is that city's tourism bureau.

Mary Jo Ross


According to Ross, the new partnership with BCTCB will help SRU students land internships and jobs with the bureau and its network of Butler County businesses and organizations. Students will also be able to work alongside Butler County businesses and organizations to help organize special events and activities, including cultural festivals, conferences, recreation and other tourism events. One example is the 2024 Can-Am Police-Fire Games, an Olympic-style competition that will attract more than 1,000 participants from the U.S. and Canada.

Some of the work students will conduct in the partnership will be incorporated through classes. For example, a new Food and Beverage Operations class that Ross will teach at SRU this spring will assist the soon-to-be opened Rooster's Coffee Bar in Slippery Rock. That establishment is owned by Bob McCafferty, a local restaurateur and brewer who also owns the North Country Brewing Company. Students will join McCafferty in establishing procedures for the coffee bar.

"This an important partnership for the growth of our Hospitality, Event Management and Tourism Department and for connecting the University with local organizations," said Lawrence Shao, dean of the College of Business. "We're moving toward a model of experiential learning and learning by 'doing,' and it's absolutely critical that students have experiences, whether it's through internships or class projects with actual companies."

BCTCB will also benefit from the partnership by accessing SRU students and faculty to assist with events as well as SRU facilities for hosting conferences.

"Through our partnership will be able to help businesses find employees with the needed skill sets for both full- and part-time positions within the hospitality industry," said Jack Cohen, BCTCB president. "The Tourism Bureau and skilled people within the industry will also have the opportunity to go into (classes) so students know what to expect when they get jobs in the hospitality industry."

Ross met with Cohen and other leaders from SRU, BCTCB and local government to initiate the partnership last fall.

"When Dr. Ross teaches the courses, she'll utilize the businesses throughout the hospitality industry and provide students the opportunity to grow," Cohen said. "The key is for Butler County Tourism and SRU to work together so we can find jobs for students. We need and want these students to stay in Butler County."

"There are so many opportunities to help impact a lot of students and programs across the University, not just in hospitality," Ross said. "We want to grow and build Butler County and grow and build SRU. It's just a matter of putting the right people together and making things happen."

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