New major at MSU hopes to deliver Big Sky its next generation of hospitality leaders
"Big Sky is hungry for employees." Dr. Matt VanSchenkhof, assistant professor of hospitality management at MSU

On a table in the kitchen at Buck’s T4 is a device that looks like something you might find in a chemistry lab at Montana State University. It’s called a sous vide and it’s a short, boxy device with a winding tube and panel of buttons. This unassuming tool helped Buck’s T4 serve a record number of diners this Thanksgiving and Owner/Food and Beverage Director Chuck Schommer believes the device offers a glimpse into the future—one where evolving technology and highly educated staff will lead the way for Big Sky’s hospitality industry.  

Schommer hopes a new four-year degree program in hospitality management at MSU will help create a stream of well-trained job candidates looking for internships and careers in Big Sky. Gallatin College already has a two-year culinary program and with the new four-year hospitality major getting off the ground, Big Sky should expect to see more job candidates with experience running kitchen tech like the sous vide. 

Schommer says his kitchen used the sous vide to pull off
the “busiest Thanksgiving
we’ve ever had at Buck’s. We
ran 300 people through here.” 

The kitchen at Buck’s broke down whole turkeys, put them in vacuum sealed bags and used the sous vide to cook them using a circulating hot water bath.  

“It’s an exact temperature. So a piece of protein from the outside to the inside is the exact degree of done-ness,” explains Schommer. “The schools are starting to teach sous vide in their classes now.” 

Having prospective employees show up already trained in the latest cooking skills is something Schommer welcomes because, “There’s not a lot of talent on the open market. It’s a real cutthroat business right now. We’ll lose employees over 25 cents an
hour to go to another restaurant. We can’t find quality employees. We just can’t.”

“Big Sky is hungry for employees,” adds Dr. Matt VanSchenkhof, assistant professor of hospitality management at MSU. He believes the new program at MSU gives Big Sky its “own build and grow track” where students can spend four years in Bozeman, while interning at different businesses in Big Sky. 

This is the new program’s first semester, with 26 students enrolled as hospitality majors and four dedicated faculty. VanSchenkhof personally believes the new program should strive to attract 200 or more students to the major over the next five years. He sees hospitality management majors taking at least two internships over their four years at MSU, where they can learn from making “active mistakes.” 

When it comes to recruiting students, VanSchenkhof says, “We’re going for all walks of life and they have to have a passion for service and for people. Someone who enjoys life through experiences.”

“It’s possible for students to put in two days a week during classes and then work summers getting their hands dirty,” says VanSchenkhof. So by the time they graduate, students might have more than 5,000 hours of experience and be in a position to take on management roles. 

Big Sky Resort is also pleased to see the new MSU major get up and rolling. It’s contributing financially to the program, as well as offering the expertise of its leadership team. For example, Senior Vice President of Lodging for Boyne Resorts Barb Rooney taught a lodging management class a few weeks ago. 

“We are excited and proud to be engaged and involved in the development of the hospitality program at MSU,” says Rooney. “I was quite impressed with many of the students that I met as a guest speaker. The opportunities for students in this field are endless.”

Tom Nolan, Big Sky’s food and beverage director, adds, “We will share financial support, knowledge and experience with the faculty and staff at MSU to help create an impactful program that will bring students to the school, keep them invested in Montana’s future, and develop career skill sets to support the industry as a whole.”

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