Priscilla Bloomquist, one of the founding faculty members of New Mexico State University’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, will retire this month after 33 years of service to the program she helped launch more than three decades ago.
Bloomquist’s legacy at NMSU includes establishing the first four-year hospitality program in New Mexico, educating thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, and securing more than $1 million in external grants to fund high-profile projects throughout the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
“Dr. Priscilla Bloomquist’s impact on the HRTM program cannot be overstated,” HRTM Director Jean Hertzman said. “She has taught Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality Law to virtually every graduate of the program. Students and alumni praise her teaching and mentoring skills, and she has been involved with so many major initiatives, such as establishing our Hospitality Career Fair and obtaining grants for the development of our student-operated restaurant, 100 West Café.”
Bloomquist developed an interest in hospitality, she said, while working in restaurants as a college student and decided to pursue a graduate degree in the field at the encouragement of a restaurant owner. She began her academic career at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where she earned a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism, gained experience as a teaching assistant and later became a faculty member after graduation.
She arrived at NMSU in 1988, drawn to New Mexico by the prospects of warmer weather and establishing what would become the first four-year hospitality program in the state.
“At that time, John Owens, dean of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics, recognized tourism was a major economic driver in the state,” she said. “Four-year hospitality programs existed in many other states, but New Mexico didn’t have one and wasn’t preparing residents for careers in one of the largest industries in the world.”
Bloomquist assisted with building the program – then called Hospitality and Tourism Services – from the ground up with founding director Ron Cox. She taught nearly all of the courses.
One of the biggest challenges the program faced early on, Bloomquist said, was convincing skeptics that hospitality careers required robust academic preparation. However, interest in the new program surged, and by the end of the first year, it had about 65 students. More than 1,800 students have since graduated from the program, which became its own department in 1998 and eventually the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management in 2005.
Bloomquist earned a Ph.D. in educational management and development from NMSU in 1995, and her husband, Daren, started teaching in the HRTM program in 1999.
“We are a family of Aggies,” she said. “Two of our children earned undergraduate degrees from the College of ACES – one of whom is currently working on an MBA. Our third and youngest will be starting his sophomore year at NMSU in the fall.”
Over the past 33 years, Bloomquist has seen HRTM flourish. It grew out of a single office suite in Knox Hall into a sprawling space on the first floor of Gerald Thomas Hall, now boasting100 West Café, the Bobby Lee Lawrence Academy of Wine and an instructional computer lab. It also houses the Marriott Hospitality Futures Center, a resource center dedicated to fostering career development and promoting the importance of hospitality education.
But, despite its growth, the program hasn’t changed or wavered its recipe for student success, she said.
“HRTM has always been student-centric, and that remains true,” she said. “We worked hard and continue to work hard to build and maintain close connections with industry professionals and our students. In the classroom, we blend theory with application, and we have always required all students to gain industry experience as part of our graduation requirements, so they are set up to succeed as they enter the workplace.”
Throughout her career, Bloomquist continuously strived to transform HRTM by obtaining grants and contract work from entities like New Mexico Tourism Department, U.S. Forest Service, New Mexico Economic Development Department and New Mexico State Parks.
As a co-principal investigator of three grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture totaling more than $820,000, she helped support the development of HRTM distance education classes, assisted with the creation of a pathway for ProStart high school students in New Mexico to attend NMSU, and secured funding to remodel a food science lab in the college. She also secured a $150,000 gift from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation to equip the kitchen at 100 West Café.
Bloomquist’s dedication to HRTM and NMSU students earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including the College of ACES Distinguished Service and Distinguished Teaching awards, the Christmore Award for Teaching Excellence and the Donald Roush Award (two-time recipient). She also was named Hospitality Educator of the Year by the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s Hospitality Industry Education Foundation and Professor of the Year from the NMSU Greek community (two-time recipient).
From 2000 to 2002, she served on the Walt Disney World Academic Advisory Council as a founding member. In 2018, the New Mexico Hospitality Association inducted her into the New Mexico Tourism Hall of Fame. She also served as the interim department head of Family and Consumer Sciences and Extension Family and Consumer Sciences between 2017 and 2019.
“I’ve had so many memorable moments throughout my career at NMSU,” she said. “But my greatest joy comes from watching our students graduate and progress in their careers and personal lives.”
Bloomquist said she plans to keep busy during her retirement and maintain close ties to NMSU.
“I hope to come back and work quarter-time for the ACES Academic Programs Office,” she said. “I also want to find meaningful regular volunteer opportunities, start golfing again and get back to traveling. I might even take a few classes.”
In lieu of retirement gifts at a celebration in her honor in April, Bloomquist requested donations to the HRTM Alumni Endowed Scholarship, challenging former students and colleagues to donate $1 for every year she dedicated to NMSU and HRTM to support current and future HRTM students.
“We definitely received enough donations from this campaign to complete the HRTM Alumni Endowed Scholarship so we can start awarding money to students,” Hertzman said.