Winner of Academic Scholarship Essay


Winner of the Academic Scholarship

Rachel Richards is the recipient of SITE Foundation’s inaugural academic scholarship, awarded in June 2023. We hope the entire SITE community will join us in extending a huge congratulations to Rachel, and in wishing her all the best with her future studies!

Learn more about what has motivated Rachel so far to pursue a career in luxury hospitality with her winning essay, shared below.

by Rachel Richards

I am honored to have the opportunity to apply for the SITE Foundation Academic Scholarship.

As Isadore Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, once said “Long-term success is never achieved on our own. The phrase, ‘a self-made man’ is a myth, all along the way we need support” (Top 8 Quotes). Throughout my childhood, I often listened to the stories of my parents as they described their busy workdays in luxury hotels – their faces would light up as they recalled memorable guest encounters, amazing events, and the thrill of being part of a tight-knit team of fellow professionals. This planted a seed in me that has grown exponentially over the past few years as I’ve come to realize that hospitality is my future.

Like many of my peers, I struggled at high school to envision how I could combine my creative skills, academics, empathetic nature, love of travel and outgoing personality into a meaningful and long-lasting career. However, during a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Paris, France everything changed. The architecture, atmosphere, pavement cafes and exquisite service of French luxury hotels, all led to a true ‘light bulb moment’ when I realized I’d found my lifelong flame – luxury, international hospitality. I could use all my skills to be part of an incredible industry and help other ‘dreamers’ experience magical destinations, just as I had.

This realization has led me to the University of North Texas (UNT) where I have just completed my Junior year as a BSc undergraduate in Hospitality Management. This program is helping me to learn not only best practices, but also preparing me for the future of the business in a time of unprecedented change. The faculty have made great efforts to ensure that the material they teach continues to be relevant through consistent exposure to current industry leaders and I truly believe that those who are best able to adapt to these ever-shifting conditions will be the ones who prove most successful. As part of this, in my freshman year I was privileged to be selected as a founding member of the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism Leadership Academy. This has afforded me the opportunity to benefit from an industry mentoring program as well as visiting venues such as the newly opened Omni PGA Frisco Resort, organizing educational events and participating in charitable fundraisers.

As I have tried to plan my career path, over the past 2 years I have made significant efforts to gain exposure to a variety of different areas within the luxury hospitality industry. This has included a part-time job in both Food & Beverage and Rooms Division at a large Hotel & Conference Center in Denton during the college semesters, as well as summer internships with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts. Additionally, I am the social media Officer for the student chapter of PCMA at UNT.

However, it is my involvement with SITE as a student member of the Texas Chapter, that has been particularly influential in guiding my focus towards a career in Sales & Marketing for luxury hotel companies. The individuals I have met through networking at SITE events have been especially inspiring and gracious in offering valuable insight and advice. The ability to interact on a one-on-one basis with some of our industry’s icons has been amazing and continues to open my eyes to the myriad of paths my career could take.

Therefore, as I look forward to my Senior year at UNT, there are two areas of study that will particularly resonate with me. Firstly, I will be taking a class on Sales & Marketing which will help me learn how to identify customer needs, develop and price need-satisfying product offerings and build lasting customer relationships. As someone who aims to initially specialize in this area following graduation, I view this as an essential part of my curriculum. During my visit to Paris in 2019, I was honored to be given a personal tour of The Westin Paris Vendome by Ms. Heike Ströhmann and was so impressed by her knowledge of the hotel as well as her obvious passion for the clients she serves. It is one of my personal goals to earn the opportunity to showcase properties that I love and learn how to convey that emotional connection to clients.

Secondly, I will be taking a class on ‘Managing a Diverse Workforce’. As a future team leader, I have been able to take several leadership classes during my time at UNT and look forward to building on that knowledge, especially as my hands on work experience continues to grow. I believe it is vitally important to celebrate diversity but also learn how to manage effectively in this changing employment landscape. In fact, I have been asked by the Dean of the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism to be a Thought Leader panelist at a high-profile TEDX presentation on Next-Generation Intelligence in August 2023 at UNT. This panel will consider such aspects as Artificial Intelligence, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, and Intergenerational Intelligence.

Although I recognize that I am just starting my career ‘journey’, and appreciate that Hospitality rightly values hands-on experience, I believe that a solid, well-rounded educational grounding will ensure that I am ready to make a positive contribution. With the technology innovations that are changing how our customers and guests interact with us, as well as the ever-increasing emphasis on financial performance by property ownerships, programs of study such as this BSc in Hospitality at UNT can help provide the best launch pad for the challenges that will lie ahead.

Finally, as someone who has grown up in North Texas, I am humbled by this opportunity to study at the University of North Texas, with its long and proud tradition. As Marian Wright Edelman said, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it” (Edelman). I hope, in my own small way, to use my hospitality career to enrich the lives of those around me and this scholarship will inspire me to become my ‘best self’.


Edelman, Marian Wright, The Measure of Success: A Letter to my Children & Yours (Boston, Beacon Press, 1992)

Written by

SITE Staff


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