Find Your Passion: A Hospitable Leader
By Kim Eaton
Mary Hogan loved to cook.
She spent numerous hours engrossed in The Food Network, learning as much as she could from the featured celebrity chefs. She even started a collection of cookbooks. It seemed only natural that after high school she would pursue a career in the culinary arts.
Surprisingly, while following one dream, she discovered another.
During her time at Faulkner State Culinary Institute, the 21-year-old University of Alabama junior participated in different events catered by the culinary students.
“I learned how to set up, break down, run an event, and I started realizing that I also liked that aspect of the culinary world,” Hogan says. “I decided I didn’t want to just work in a kitchen forever. I wanted to broaden my horizons, expand my skills and see what else I could do.”
After graduating from the institute in 2012, the Spanish Fort resident transferred to The University of Alabama. Initially, she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue, but she chose the restaurant, hotel and meetings management program in the College of Human Environmental Sciences because “the classes looked interesting.”
She jumped into the program and campus life with both feet running and, shortly after arriving, was involved with several organizations and volunteered for some career-enriching experiences.
“The hospitality industry is unlike many fields in that it really focuses on the experience rather than the GPA,” Hogan said. “So, I decided to get that experience.”
She joined the Hotel and Restaurant and Convention Association, or HARACA, and UA Meeting Professionals International, two student organizations that provide networking and educational opportunities for hospitality majors. Her first career volunteer experience was the annual Hangout Oyster Cook-Off in Gulf Shores last fall. UA MPI members helped set up and break down the event, they assisted the Food Network Star finalists in the kitchen, aided the chefs in preparing their oysters and bringing them to the judges’ table and more.
Not only did Hogan gain a better understanding of what it takes to pull off such a “high-profile event” and the amount of work put in behind-the-scenes to help that event run smoothly, she had an opportunity to meet some talented and well-known chefs.
“I have always admired a chef’s creativity, hard work and talent, so to be able to work alongside of these individuals was surreal,” she said. “The most challenging part of the experience was trying not to eat my weight in oysters.”
Coming back from her Gulf Shores experience, Hogan was eager to continue expanding her skills. She served as guide to UA alumna and Southern lifestyle expert Rebecca Gordon during a visit in March, and then was asked by the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission to help with the Druid City Arts Festival in April.
As Hogan gained more experience, she also expanded her leadership role during the volunteer events. She first served “lead” in a project for the LA Gumbo Festival in Orange Beach. In addition to helping during the event, she was also responsible for group’s volunteer operations, from arranging transportation to and from and finding accommodations in Orange Beach to monitoring and assisting the students’ roles throughout the festival.
“It was different than just volunteering in that I was responsible for others’ work schedules, making sure they had food and drink when they needed it and helping them face challenges such as being hot or tired or confused about tasks,” Hogan said. “But, I love being a leader because I have such a passion for helping others.”
That passion for leading will continue as the next president of UA MPI. While that role will challenge her as a student, she knows the skills and experience she has garnered at UA so far have prepared her for her future career endeavors.
“My social skills have blossomed, and I have learned the key requirements it takes to land my dream job – networking, hard work, a radiating passion for the hospitality industry and always helping others achieve their goals,” Hogan said. “I am building the foundation of my career right now.”
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This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.