From Collins to Uganda: Hospitality Graduate Joins the Peace Corps

From Collins to Uganda: Hospitality Graduate Joins the Peace Corps
After graduating, David Harrison will work for the Peace Corps in Uganda.

David Harrison has had the kind of college experiences that many dream of: A semester as a resident adviser at Yosemite, where he drove ski boats and hiked when he wasn't in class. A chance to study at Oxford Brookes University in England and then serve as a consultant in picturesque Cluj, Romania. The ability to travel to Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Austria. An internship at an exclusive Lake Tahoe club.

The hospitality management major says his education was perfect preparation for his job this summer after graduation: working for the Peace Corps in Uganda, where he just might end up in a small village lacking the amenities most Americans take for granted.

“Hospitality management is all about managing expectations,” he says. “The gap between working for an international aid and development program, like the Peace Corps, and working in hospitality management is very small. They're both focused on helping others.”

Harrison, who exudes the amiable self-confidence of someone who likes working with people, credits three professors at The Collins College of Hospitality Management — and the ladies bridge club in Lake Tahoe — for influencing his decision to forgo the perks of a career in the hospitality industry for what will likely be a demanding 27 months in Africa.

“I remember Dr. [Jerald] Chesser telling us, 'Don't just change this industry — change the world.' And professors Margie Jones and Donald St. Hilaire convinced me that I didn't have to be in the hospitality industry to achieve my goals. They convinced me it was OK to try something different.”

Harrison, 22, had long thought about a service-oriented career, starting at Azusa Pacific University, where he studied pre-med.

“There's no greater way to help people than with their health,” he says, “but there was one complication: chemistry. The periodic table of elements hated me.”

His career goals changed after he talked to a cousin who works at the Four Seasons resort in Hawaii. “She told me that one of the best hospitality management programs in the country was 10 minutes from my house,” the La Verne resident says. He enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona in spring 2006, attending the Collins College and specializing in yacht club and country club management. “I ate it up,” he says.

Then came the internship at the Tahoe Mountain Club in Lake Tahoe, where he focused on event planning and programming for high-end clients.

“It was at Lake Tahoe that I learned that private clubs were not my direction,” he says. “My personal and professional values collided.” He emphasizes that it wasn't that he disliked the work or the club members he served, but his inner conflict came to a head when the staff there became overly stressed out about running 15 minutes late in serving the ladies bridge club buffet.

“It was my 'ah ha' moment,” he says. “We're stressing out, losing time with our families, trying to figure out how to make people who are comfortable even more comfortable. It's not life and death.”

Now he's focusing on helping the less fortunate.  He's not yet certain what his assignment in Uganda will entail, but his assignment is in the sustainable economic development program.

“The focus will be to develop a relationship with people so they can take ownership of their common goals,” he says. “I want to help them create a shared vision and execute it.”