Quanifah Williams and her mother would cook together when she was growing up. Cooking was always a happy part of her day and allowed her to appreciate the art of food. Now, Williams is pursuing a career in hospitality at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, “because there’s just something about watching people light up from food.”
Lisa Do was never fully immersed in her college experience until her spring 2019 semester, when she started studying hospitality at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. Do changed her major several times and was studying business when she found hospitality. “I always say hospitality management kind of saved me,” she says. “I’ve never been so happy to go to school.”
What Williams and Do have in common, in addition to a shared passion for hospitality, is they are both recipients of scholarships through the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) Foundation. For the 2020/2021 academic year, AHLA Foundation is awarding a total of $1 million in scholarships to 310 bachelors and graduate degree hospitality students. In addition, the Foundation recently announced that it is partnering with 10 two-year hospitality programs around the country to provide $100,000 to students signing up for the 2021/2022 academic year. Since its founding, AHLA Foundation has invested $14 million in hospitality students’ education via scholarships. Some students may not have had the opportunity to complete their education without this assistance.
“It’s exciting to realize that this is our time now and we’re not going to be the class that graduated and went straight to work. We are the class that graduated during a pandemic, during a crisis in our industry, and we are responsible for bringing it back to life.”
— Lisa Do, AHLA Foundation scholarship recipient and student, University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management
Williams discovered the AHLA Foundation scholarship through her high school counselor who encouraged her to apply. “I didn’t know that I would actually get the scholarship,” Williams says. “My counselor was happy for me because she knew that I wanted to be a chef full-time and make it my lifetime career.” In the future, Williams hopes to continue her education and expand her culinary skills to pastries, too. She says she wants to be a well-rounded chef who can cook foods of various types from a variety of cultures.
When Do learned that her financial aid would not cover her last semester of college, she reached out to a professor who reminded her of and nominated her for the AHLA Foundation scholarship. “It comes full circle,” she says. Looking ahead to her career, Do wants to stay involved in hospitality and has a specific interest in human resources. She says she is proud to be one of the graduates tasked with helping the hospitality industry to recover following the COVID-19 pandemic. She adds, “It’s exciting to realize that this is our time now and we’re not going to be the class that graduated and went straight to work. We are the class that graduated during a pandemic, during a crisis in our industry, and we are responsible for bringing it back to life. It’s challenging. It’s not easy.”
In addition to financial support, motivation is key for students to complete their degree programs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many academic institutions have transitioned to full or hybrid models of virtual schooling.
Williams says she is motivated by her family. “They always encourage me to do the best that I can in what I’m doing because not a lot of people who look like me are doing what I do,” she explains. “I want to show people of color and women that they too can have a job like this and be successful.”
Do says she is motivated by the people in hospitality; she says that while hospitality workers are always there for others, they are also always there for each other. “We’re so focused on the guest and the people, but we don’t even forget to care for one another,” she says. “That gives me hope… We always put others first, and people need that. The world needs us.”