For Dr. Brij Thapa, moving to Oklahoma with his family in September to take over as the head of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) at Oklahoma State University was a major life change. He had never been to the state before and even interviewed for the position virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. And he bought his Stillwater home without seeing it in person. Despite a lack of time spent on the ground in Oklahoma, Thapa said the opportunity was too great to pass up.
“One thing that got me excited about the position was that the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is part of the Spears School of Business,” said Thapa. “Being part of a business school is a great benefit because the (hospitality and tourism) curriculum then has a direct link to the mission and values of the business school. The focus is the business of hospitality and tourism.”
Thapa takes over leadership of HTM following 20 years as a faculty member at the University of Florida’s (UF) Department of Tourism, Hospitality & Event Management in the College of Health and Human Performance. Thapa joined the faculty at UF in 2000 as an assistant professor after receiving his doctorate in tourism and recreation management from Pennsylvania State University. He served in a number of leaderships roles at UF including as the director of the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute and director of Strategic Initiatives for the UF International Center. In addition, he also served as the department’s program leader and coordinator for the Graduate & Undergraduate Programs.
With a distinguished academic career as a professor and extensive experience over two decades at UF, Thapa also brings leadership skills in research and international outreach to HTM. His research interests include the connection between tourism, conservation and sustainability in both the U.S. and abroad, and especially in developing countries. His work has included projects involving more than 30 nations and has received funding from multiple federal agencies. His outreach work has included serving as a U.S. Fulbright Senior Specialist in Nepal and working in developing countries focusing on higher education capacity building, tourism development, sustainability and natural resources management.
Having attended a land-grant university at Penn State and spent most of his career at another, Thapa said the education, research and outreach mission of land-grant institutions is important to him and will continue to guide his work at OSU.
“I believe in the land-grant mission because as a land-grant university, you’re responsible to the citizens and taxpayers of the state,” he said. “Tourism and hospitality are important for economic development and there is great opportunity for HTM to continue to serve the citizens of Oklahoma through its programs.”
As the only major HTM program in the state, he envisions working in collaboration with state and local governments along with rural and urban communities to develop initiatives and strengthen the school’s engagement.
Furthermore, Thapa said he has a number of goals he would like to see realized at HTM including the continued integration and alignment of the school with Spears Business and ensure HTM students are able to take advantage of the business school’s resources. He said he would also like to replicate the success he had in leading a tourism institute in Florida to create symbiosis between academia and industry.
Similarly, Thapa said the OSU Center for Hospitality and Tourism Research at HTM could be an important source of applied research and outreach by providing training to tourism and economic development groups throughout the state. Additionally, the relationships with industry will provide students with learning opportunities and allow the school to put its applied research to work.
Because of HTM’s strong legacy of world-class research and its place as a training ground for hospitality and tourism academics from around the world, Thapa said he will continue the tradition of excellence and foster current and new synergies in people, programs and partnerships to sustain progress as it relates to the mission of HTM and Spears School of Business.
This fall semester will be a time for him to listen and learn from all internal and external stakeholders, friends, supporters and benefactors of the school, Thapa said. He noted that the rich legacy combined with the talent of faculty, staff and students are the foundation to propel the program further at the national and global stage.
“My ultimate vision of the school is to be the leader and sustain academic pre-eminence with respect to innovation in research, teaching excellence and service outreach at the local, national and global level,” he said.
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