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New Pine Bluff casino partnering with UAPB to bring hands-on degree program

The University of Arkansas Pine Bluff will be partnering with the Saracen Casino to bring hands-on experience to new hospitality and tourism management students.

PINE BLUFF, Ark — The University of Arkansas Pine Bluff is offering a new degree program for students: hospitality and tourism management.

Thanks to the new Saracen Casino, this new degree will directly impact the community. 

Students at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff will soon have a new career path and degree option to choose from in the Department of Human Sciences.

Dr. Brenda Martin, chair of the UAPB Department of Human Sciences, said this is the third-degree program the department offers. 

"The hospitality industry continues to grow and so we wanted to get ahead of the curve," she said. 

Martin said UAPB is aiming to prepare students for the big project across the street. 

"We noticed of course that there is a casino that is coming to town," she said. 

The $350 million-dollar Saracen Casino Resort opens in just eight months and Martin said she wants UAPB students to be ready. 

"Employers are looking for graduates with experience, work experience in the field," she said. 

Aside from the new curriculum that will be taught in the classroom, Martin said what makes this program one-of-a-kind is the hands-on experience the students will be receiving right in the workplace.

"Our commitment to the city and to the county is to hire locally and there's a point where we may need to train to hire locally," Carlton Saffa, Saracen Casino Resort Project Manager, said. 

He said the Saracen Casino is keeping that promise by partnering with UAPB to give students the opportunity to intern with and shadow professionals.

"If you are going to learn something and you are learning in a classroom environment you are learning it in a vacuum, it's an academic exercise, but when you can actually put it in practice in a state of the art tourist location, it's the best you can have," Saffa said. 

He said they will be training students early-on with the hopes of hiring them once they receive their diploma. 

"We can provide an opportunity for you to stay," Saffa said. 

Martin said this partnership is offering growth to students and the city all at once. 

"They can be successful so that they can stay here in the community and then we can all add value and things of those nature to the community," she said. 

The Saracen Casino will also be working directly with Southeast Arkansas Community College in Pine Bluff, as they just recently added a new hospitality management course.

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