When Johnson & Wales University senior Julia McNellis was just 7 years old, she fell off a horse and, as the saying goes, got right back on the saddle.
She’s stayed there ever since as, she said, she fell in love with what she hopes to soon make her profession at a very young age.
“My mom’s friend put me on one of her very old, rickety, pastor horses and he freaked out because a big gathering of geese flew up and he was blind,” McNellis said. “I fell. I looked up at my mom and said, ‘I want to do this.’ I went to camp, took lessons and got my own horse.”
Several years later she arrived at Johnson & Wales for formal training. She’ll graduate this spring with a bachelor of science in equine business management – riding.
JWU’s Center for Equine Studies may not be the most well-known program on campus but it is one of the school’s most innovative. Its inception was centered on creating a program in which students would have the best chance of professional success within the industry.
Though perhaps most famous as a culinary-arts and hospitality-education institution, JWU was founded in 1914 as a business school and offers several degree programs within its college of business – as well as in the school of technology and school of arts and sciences – to an average of 10,000 undergraduate students per semester.
The university was allowed to start awarding baccalaureate degrees in 1970.
In 1980, then-university Chancellor Morris Gaebe and Col. John F. McNulty, who then was dean of students, took a personal interest in horses and results of a student survey that showed interest in sport riding to develop a certificate program in equine management. That was worked into an associate degree program within the school’s college of business.
Beth Beukema, the Center for Equine Studies director, came onboard in 1983 and helped establish the bachelor degree program.
“It was one of the first programs to have a business emphasis. At the time the program was developed, equine was mostly in the sciences,” said Beukema, who earned a master’s in animal science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and taught there for six years, then ran her own riding-school business before joining JWU. “Many have copied across the country but those are still equine programs within universities that are more of an animal-science program. We’re a business program with an equine emphasis.”