Assistant Professor in Hotel and Restaurant Management
College of Human Sciences
Jamaica native Alecia Douglas is an assistant professor in the Hotel and Restaurant Management program in the College of Human Sciences. She began her studies of hospitality and tourism management in Jamaica, before pursuing her master's and doctorate in the United States. Douglas came to Auburn University in the fall of 2008 with two years of teaching experience and six years of research. Currently, she teaches courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, administers and coordinates the Hospitality Practicum, a partnership with The Hotel at Auburn University, and hosted the 2011 Hospitality Gala on Thursday, March 31.
1. You've attended universities in Jamaica, Delaware and Indiana. Why did you pick Auburn University as a place to work?
Several things were very clear to me when choosing where to start my academic career here at Auburn University: the university's status as a land-grant, research-focused institution; the Southern hospitality I received during my visit; becoming a member of a truly diverse faculty which mirrors the nature of our hospitality and tourism industry; and getting the chance to become part of a program that is looking to create waves, organizing itself to become a leader in hospitality education, and not to only glorify its accomplishments, but to put into practice the science of continuous quality improvements. I knew my contributions would be valuable and I would have help to affect instrumental change.
2. All three of your degrees are in hospitality and tourism management. What attracted you to that field?
During my secondary education years, I was being groomed for a future in the sciences and had wanted to eventually choose a career in a laboratory setting as a forensic scientist. But I had an innate sense of purpose to serve and found the fields of hospitality and tourism most attractive, creative, dynamic and just full of life. I identified with the global culture of the industry and with the fact that you could literally travel to another part of our world through your interactions with those you work with and those you would serve without ever "leaving home." I also understood the importance of what we do as a prescription for enhancing one's quality of life and the difference between service and servitude. There was an understanding that the importance of our industry is sometimes understated and frequently misunderstood and I could be an agent of understanding. Where growth is concerned, I knew I would be part of a limitless industry that caters to everyone's needs, one that is all-inclusive, and that is one of the most diverse industries in its offerings. The opportunities to work in different countries and cultures were quite appealing to me.
3. You have had the opportunity to travel to a number of places through Auburn's Hotel and Restaurant Management (or HRMT) program. Which is your favorite place and why?
There are two travel experiences that share my top spot. Through our program, I had the opportunity to travel last May to the famed Napa and Sonoma Valley wine region for the sixth annual Epicurean Tour of Northern California with a group of 15 seniors in our program as part of a study tour course. I was able to engage in and gain an appreciation for gourmet tourism. We visited some spectacular wineries, restaurants and hotels and met with some of the stellar leaders in the wine industry, while also enjoying the company of some of our donors. It was an awe-filled, memorable experience sharing with industry, donors and students.
Last November, I traveled with a group of six students from our chapter of the Eta Sigma Delta International Hospitality Management Honors Society to New York City to attend the annual ESD meeting, the International Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Show; tour The Setai Fifth Avenue and The Standard hotels; and to meet with our HRMT advisory board member, Katy Law, director of sales for The Americas - Design Hotels, for a high-profile, yet intimate industry mixer. The experience to interact with industry was greatly beneficial for me as they provided much needed insight into how the industry has changed and what I need to do to groom my students to be ready for that change through the courses I teach. I also enjoyed the enthusiasm of our students throughout the trip.
4. Each year, you teach a class of students to plan and present The Hospitality Gala, a significant fundraising event to benefit the HRMT program. Why would you give such a tremendous responsibility to students?
The HRMT canon is to graduate students of unparalleled quality for the hospitality and tourism industries by delivering a unique educational experience. Our course in catering and event management is the most actively involved and unique educational experience we offer our students. The class is responsible for the planning, coordination and execution of the main fundraising event for our program. We have been doing this event for the last 19 years so it is deeply rooted in our program and there has always been an interest in the field of event management by our students. Over the years, the course blossomed to the stage where student involvement became critical, which has been the case for at least the last eight or so events. We also have been listening to and implementing the suggestions from our graduates for more opportunities to expose them to hands-on industry experiences in general and interest based hospitality courses. In 2009, we branded our event "The Hospitality Gala" and we team-teach the course with our partners at The Hotel at Auburn University. Both our attendance and the local, regional and international support received have grown exponentially. During this experience, students get both the academic and practical perspective on the event. They are considered event planners and are held to the same level of expectation as an event planner in the real world would be. The thing I appreciate most about this course is the feeling I get of being transported to the future and seeing our event planners in action. The event is symbolic of the nucleus of our industry: the art, science, and most importantly, the service of hospitality. It is symbolic to HRMT as it is a true reflection of our growth and our ultimate goal of being known as a leader in hospitality and tourism education. We built this experience because our students want to come to it; it remains a favored professional elective course based on student referrals.
For more about The Hospitality Gala, visit www.thehospitalitygala.com or go to the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Hospitality-Gala/193208630707568.
5. If you could host a dinner party with any three guests, living or dead, who would you invite and who would cook the meal?
There is no competition for my first guest: Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, for her charm, intelligence and mystery. It has been a strong desire of mine to travel to Egypt because of her. Guests two and three are hardest to choose. Louise Bennett-Coverley, or "Miss Lou," who is an internationally famed and beloved Jamaican folklorist, writer and artist for her eloquence, "cultured" tongue, virtue and vibrance, would be the life of the party with her humor. My final choice is among Bob Marley, Simon Cowell and Oprah Winfrey – I would choose Simon Cowell as the third guest for his keen insight, brutal honesty and wit. Of the three, I think Miss Lou would be the best at cooking the meal!