From Conference Room to Tasting Room: Earn a Master’s in Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM)

Master’s in Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) Graduate Victoria Rice

Victoria Rice

Like many other professionals who have felt stuck or unsatisfied with their careers, Victoria Rice made the bold move to go back to school for an opportunity at a fresh start. Although financially stable, Victoria wanted a career that made her truly happy. Through careful thought and consideration, she decided to leave her current company and invest her savings in a Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) at San Diego State University. Learn how Victoria was able to develop confidence in her own ability, take advantage of key mentorship opportunities, and grow as an individual while being part of a small, tight-knit cohort in SDSU’s HTM Master’s program.

How did you learn about this degree program and get into the hospitality industry?

I had been working for a company for about 6 years, super successfully, with a really long commute. It was typical corporate America. Waking up at 4 in the morning, coming home at 8 at night, and driving 4 hours a day. I was really unhappy and it was affecting my personal life. I realized that life is too short and I could be doing something I was more passionate about.

In Googling the best industries to work for, hospitality came up as a fastest growing industry.  I used to think of hospitality as being a food service worker, but there are so many other roles that you don’t think about that entail hospitality. I had been thinking about going back to school, but had no idea where to start. While researching hospitality and other master’s programs, San Diego State University came up, so I completed the interest form online. I got a call back from Candy Flynn, Student Experience Manager of the HTM Master’s Program then met with Program Director Jeff Campbell and really, really liked him. That’s when I decided, “alright I’m going to put in my two weeks’ notice and completely restart my life.”

I drew down my savings to support myself through the transition and started the master’s program a couple of months later. It was a big investment in my future. I started a job at a little winery working part time as a wine server while in the program. Six months later I got a call from my current employer, Wilson Creek Winery, for a job in their wine club.

I totally shifted careers. totally changed what I wanted to do. At the time I was 28 years old. It took about four years to get to where I am, but hospitality is the place to be.

What is your current position?

Tasting Room Manager is my current role and I lead a group of about 50 employees. They are barbacks, servers, the cashiers. The winery in total has around 250 employees. That includes the winemaking team, the facilities team, the full-service restaurant, and the tasting room.

The tasting room entails a wine club lounge upstairs for wine club members only, and about 12 different bars. I manage a team ranging from the age of 21 to 70-something, including someone who has been there since the doors opened. It’s a diverse group of people, some of whom work for fun.

Others are students that are on a similar career path as I was on, which has allowed me to become a more patient and caring leader. Everything I learned from the program I’ve shared with my team because I understand the challenges of getting to where they want to be. You care about your team like they’re your family. We have 5 core values at Wilson Creek and one of them is “value the person in front of you.”

What was it like going back to school and attending classes online?

It’s difficult to put into words the change that happens during the program. You grow up a lot, you learn a lot. It’s really nice to have professionals in the hospitality industry you can talk to about your career path and where you want to be. Many conversations with Jeff Campbell, Director of the HTM Master’s Program, and Carl Winston, Director of the Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, and my classmates had a huge impact on where I am today. At one point, I met with Carl because I was frustrated I wasn’t moving up more quickly. He assured me that persistence and perseverance would pay off.

The program got me back to reading and now I love to read. The program made me grow as a person. You grow together with your classmates. I still keep in touch with many students who were in my cohort. It’s about the people. It’s about the staff. It’s about opening doors and making connections. I’ve met the coolest people through the program. My mentor is a General Manager for Karl Strauss Brewing. The Master’s program team is all about connecting you with the right people and it really helped me to get to where I am.

In the program, you don’t feel like you’re going to San Diego State University, you feel like you’re part of a very small group. You can literally text, call, or email the staff at any time. To this day, two years later, I can reach out and get an email, a text, or call back within 24 hours. It feels like a family, it doesn’t feel like you’re at school.

Any advice for students considering a Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management?

It’s never too late to change your career path. I was really comfortable financially and I had to give up a lot, but now I’m really happy. Changing your career path into hospitality opens so many possibilities. I work in wine right now, I could go work at SeaWorld tomorrow, or I could go work at a hotel. There are so many avenues in the hospitality realm. If I can lead a team of people at a winery I can lead a team of people anywhere. There’s so much room for growth in this industry.