While many first year students at the University of New Hampshire decided to spend their first spring break laying on Myrtle Beach or enjoying the warm weather down in sunny Florida, I decided to spend my first Spring Break a little differently. Instead, I spent my time traveling to the nation’s capital with eleven other deserving students to network and speak with amazing UNH alumni in the Washington D.C. area, and it was without a doubt one of the most rewarding and incredible experiences of my life.
I was one of the few students who had never visited Washington D.C. before. Therefore, the ability to travel to D.C. and see some of the breathtaking monuments and landmarks was already exciting enough. Yet, luckily, this trip was meant for more than just sightseeing. It’s sole purpose was to give students the unique opportunity to network and gain insight from some of UNH’s most successful alumni.
As a Hospitality Management Major at UNH’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, I was in shock that I was given the ability to partake in this networking trip. This was due to the fact that three out of the seven alumni were also Hospitality Management Majors during their time at UNH, and have worked in the incredible industry ever since. Being able to talk to them was a unique privilege I was grateful to have.
My first memorable experience occurred on our second day in D.C. We shuttled over to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center to meet with Doug Ridge, an alumni of the Class of ’85 who is the Area General Manger of the resort. We began by sitting down with Doug and his wonderful management team for breakfast in the atrium of the building. Students spoke to managers in charge of areas such as event planning, finance and revenue management, food and beverage, and more; the purpose of which was to show that the hospitality industry encompasses every facet of business. I, however, was fortunate enough to sit next to Doug Ridge and talk about the hospitality program at UNH then and now, discuss internships and job opportunities, and the steps I can take during my time at UNH to one day be as successful as he is. Already blown away by the fact that I was able to network with such a prominent UNH alumni in the hospitality industry, we were given a tour of the amazing property. We were shown the stunning 19-story glass atrium with the breathtaking view of the Potomac River, the over 500,000 square foot convention center, a guest room as well as a suite with a view of the Potomac, their backstage operations such as kitchens, laundry facilities, and employee dining halls, and their rooftop lounge, Pose. Learning about the operations of such as massive resort and convention center combined with the incredible facilities and views left me absolutely speechless.
From there we walked along National Harbor to meet with Stu Damon, a Class of ’78 alumni, and enjoyed lunch at The Walrus, a successful restaurant startup through STAR Restaurant Group. All the appetizers and entrées were incredible, having been made in their scratch kitchen with all fresh seafood. Coincidentally, I had met Stu Damon a week prior to the trip when he gave a presentation in one of my Food and Beverage Hospitality classes. Along with being involved with food and beverage, Stu Damon has been incredibly successful in the hospitality industry, having worked many jobs in many departments through Marriott International. Therefore the ability to discuss about the food and beverage industry even further with him in a personal manner was an incredible opportunity. However, stepping away from hospitality, he also catered to those interested in entrepreneurship by giving a wonderful presentation about how to manage a startup.
The last alumni we met to have graduated with a degree in Hospitality was Anne Marie Wemmlinger who graduated with the Class of ’87 and works at the Marriott International Headquarters in Washington D.C. This experience was much different, as meeting with Doug and Stu involved learning about the operational and managerial side of the hospitality industry. Instead, meeting with Anne Marie gave me a wonderful introduction to the corporate side of the industry. However, her expertise of the corporate side is derived from her years of experience in operations, making her an extremely successful individual. Even though it was one of the last stops on our trip after a very busy three days, the non-hospitality students were just as amazed with the corporate side of Marriott International as I was. We visited the test kitchens and discussed new food and beverage concepts that are to be introduced on Marriott properties as well as room design concepts for brands such as Westin, Courtyard, The W, and many more. Essentially, we got to see room prototypes before they are built and are available to the public. Being able to talk about the corporate side of the industry with Anne Marie was yet another incredibly opportunity given to me during the trip.
I am so fortunate to have been a part of this incredible trip with eleven other incredible people. The sights, the people, and the opportunities truly turned a seemingly short trip into the experience of a lifetime. Every student understands the importance of networking and creating professional relationships, especially with professionals in their desired industry. To be successful after college, one must do more than strive for good grades; making connections is equally as important. When it comes to success: who you know will get you there, and what you know will keep you there. Aside from the great progress I have made in my professional career, the ability to travel to Washington D.C. for the first time made this trip even more incredible. Seeing the monuments for the first time, especially at sunset, was a jaw-dropping view. That, combined with the city life, made me excited to pursue potential careers in the D.C area in the future. I am grateful to have been chosen to partake in this fantastic experience and would like to thank my classmates and new friends, all the generous alumni, and Undergraduate Program Coordinators Sean Stewart and Tamara Rury for making my freshmen Spring Break an unforgettable memory.
About Jacob Easter ’20:
Jacob Easter is currently studying Hospitality Management at the University of New Hampshire. As a freshman here at UNH, he has focused on becoming very involved on campus and especially within the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. Currently, Jacob is involved in Men’s Volleyball, Ski Club, the Peter T. Paul Gourmet Dinner, and the FIRE Program.