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Nebraska has "tremendous potential to grow" its tourism and lodging business, Dipra Jha believes, and he's helping teach young Nebraskans how to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

Jha is director of global engagement and associate professor of practice for the hospitality, restaurant and tourism management program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Sit down with him in Leverton Hall on East Campus and you can feel the enthusiasm that he brings to the classroom, an eagerness and energy that last year marked him as the highest-rated UNL professor on Rate My Professors, an online website that allows students to turn the tables and grade their professors.

Jha extends the same kind of enthusiasm to his view of the future of Nebraska as a tourism and hospitality state.

"There is tremendous potential," he said. "Nebraska is blessed with amazing stuff."

Nebraska can offer a western, agriculture-based flavor that may be especially attractive to "the traveling public with disposable income that is looking for something other than Orlando or Vegas."

"Something much more authentic," Jha said. "Nebraska could be a magnet."

Jha has a rich history in lodging and tourism, including a 2013 stint as professor-in-residence at the Venetian-Palazzo casino resort hotel in Las Vegas, a giant enterprise that features 7,066 hotel suites, almost 9,000 employees and the world's second-largest convention facilities.

"It's a city," he said. 

At UNL, Jha teaches courses in lodging management, guest services and hospitality law in the College of Education and Human Sciences. 

Jha came to UNL in 2012, accepting a faculty position in what then was a 6-year-old program "because I saw tremendous potential here."

Seven years later, he says, "I couldn't have made a better choice."

Students who have graduated from the program have become entrepreneurs in Lincoln and elsewhere across Nebraska, as well as filling positions in other states.

"Most of them stay in the state," Jha said. 

And they keep in touch.

His advice to freshmen, as chronicled in a 2018 story in the Daily Nebraskan: "Make friends beyond your immediate circle. Try new things. Learn and practice the art of networking. Ask questions."

Here's a sample assessment of Jha's performance in the classroom posted on Rate My Professors by a student who received an A-minus grade: "He's a fantastic professor and is very knowledgeable in the field of hospitality, specifically lodging. He truly cares about his students and wants them all to succeed after graduation."

"When I interviewed here," Jha said, "I saw the promise and potential of a young program. Seven years later, I am delighted with where we have come."

As a professor, he said, "I get to see the progress of students through this journey called college. I am in position to have an impact on a young person's life and I learn from them."

While most of the students in the program remain in Nebraska, he said, others have scattered elsewhere. Jha sees opportunities continuing to grow here.

"I believe Nebraska has the potential to be the leader in ag-based tourism in the same way that Napa Valley is in marketing its wine country" in northern California, Jha said.

And if you're still wondering about the Nebraska Tourism Commission's somewhat controversial new tourism promotional slogan of "Honestly, it's not for everyone," you can count Jha in. 

"Marketing a destination is not easy," he said. "You need to differentiate. How do you stand out?"

Nebraska's tourism agency has differentiated, Jha said. It has succeeded in terms of marketing and media.

"Look at the attention they've gotten," he said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon

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