November 30, 2015
Senior student Brianna Austin hasn’t always been a business student in college. In fact, she wasn’t even a West Virginia University college student for her first semester.
Starting out after her high school graduation at Marshall University with the intent of becoming a fashion design and merchandising major, Austin didn’t seem to find her way as a Marshall student.
“It didn’t feel like my place,” she said. “I didn’t quite feel at home.”
One visit to WVU’s campus changed her whole perception of what being on a college campus should feel like.
“One thing that really stuck out to me was how the student body here really seems to love one another. I feel like all of the people that go here are friends – one big happy family. I just love the vibe you get when you come to this campus.”
Austin transferred to WVU the second semester of her freshman year and, after some consideration of her strengths, decided to study at the College of Business and Economics. With some experience working in the accounts payable department at a medical office, she decided on accounting as a major.
“As simple as this sounds, I like numbers – and that’s what led me to study accounting. I gave it a shot to see if I’d like it, and now I love it.”
Since the transfer and change of major, Austin has taken summer classes to graduate in four years – not to mention, a summer full of courses in Italy, where she studied abroad this past summer.
In the midst of her accounting studies, Austin took a hospitality course at B&E with Frank DeMarco, assistant professor and coordinator of the hospitality and tourism program. The class struck a chord with her and, as a result, Austin decided to pick up hospitality and tourism management as a second major.
“I was accustomed to the size of the accounting major and how many students I had surrounding me, and hospitality and tourism management is a much smaller, intimate group of students,” Austin said. “Professor DeMarco and Professor (Ajay) Aluri knew my name right away, which was really neat.”
As a hospitality and tourism student, as well as being a member of the Hospitality Club in which she is the organization’s treasurer, Austin and her peers have a number of experiential learning opportunities, including shadowing at Taziki’s Mediterranean Café and Martin’s BBQ Joint to learn about operations, financial statements, purchase orders, catering and more. Students also have opportunities to hear from and meet CEOs from large corporations, and sit in on advisory council meetings and network with its members.
She recently traveled in a group of five to New York City to present a workfare research study for Smith Travel Research in a competition called The Hotel Experience, in which the team came out with honorable mention.
“Brianna is an excellent student – a critical thinker who motivates other students to fulfill their potential, and we’re happy to have her in the program,” DeMarco said.
At 21 credit hours plus a 30-hour work week, Austin is maxed out. Even so, she knows that the dual degrees will expand her field of opportunities upon graduation in May 2016, and she encourages other students to do the same.
“If a student really wants to achieve and gain a lot, a double major is something to absolutely consider if they’ve got their time management skills straight and want to learn as much as possible,” Austin said. “I’m getting to experience a lot more than students that have a single major, and that has really stuck with me. I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘Look at all the doors you’ve opened up for yourself.’ I remember that in the times where I’m really busy, and it makes me grateful for it.”
Combining what she has learned in both of her majors is the ultimate plan, and putting her accounting experience to work within a hospitality setting would be her ideal situation. Austin dreams of becoming the controller for a hotel, working on the financial statements, budgets and balance sheets while still having guest interaction.
Currently, Austin is completing a fall semester internship at the Waterfront Place Hotel in the sales and marketing department, and hopes to shadow the hotel’s controller in the spring.
Growing up her whole life in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, Austin wants to make The Greenbrier her next step after graduation to participate in the resort’s management training program. The MIT program would put her through several departments over 12 months before landing on the one of her choice.
“Both Frank and Ajay have been wonderful and are all about figuring out what department we’d be the most successful in and what our strengths and weaknesses are. They want us to get into the right position to succeed,” Austin said. “I spoke with Ajay about my aspirations post-graduation just the other day, and he assured me that he’d be reaching out on my behalf, which means so much to me.”
Austin attributes joining the hospitality and tourism management program, as well as the student organization, to be her defining college experience at WVU – and plans to give back as much as she can in the future in terms of donations, student mentorship and speaking opportunities. “I have made my best friends in this program, and I owe so much to the faculty because they put everything right there for us. If we have the drive, we can make it.”