Alanna Williams is about to take her love of hospitality to another level.
Williams started a new job as director of college and career readiness at Friendship Capitol High School, in Baton Rouge, a little more than one month after her graduation from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Master of Business Administration program in May 2017.
Williams, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in Hospitality Management from UL Lafayette in 2014, will also start Friendship Capitol’s hospitality program, a first for a Louisiana charter school.
“It’s a great opportunity and something that could be really big,” she said. “[The curriculum] can be however I want it to be because it hasn’t been done before. Friendship Capitol has a whole hall that isn’t being used, so I’m going to turn each classroom into a different module.
“One classroom will be turned into a hotel guest room, and one classroom will be turned into a restaurant and dining hall. The school also has a commercial restaurant off-site that has a soup kitchen, so I’ll be able to use that facility and do the hands-on training in the kitchen.”
Williams hit the ground running when she started her new position in early July.
“The principal wants the students to be ServSafe state certified [to prepare and serve food] once they graduate from high school, so the first two classes I’ll do will be with just seniors,” she said. “I’ll start them off with an introduction to hospitality. Then from January to May, they’ll focus solely on learning the ins and outs of the restaurants and the food processing and the whole nine yards — all of the things they need to know to take the test to become certified before they graduate.”
To make the transition from student to teacher, Williams will rely on both her UL Lafayette education and the hospitality management experience she acquired while employed at three different Hilton hotels.
“A lot of people always said I’d be a good teacher or a lawyer,” she said. “I had definitely considered being a teacher. I applied for a position that was open at UL Lafayette. They went with someone who was filling in temporarily, which was a good business decision. Dr. [Gwen] Fontenot, the [interim] dean of the College of Business Administration at the time, talked to me and said, ‘Alanna, you should still consider teaching.’ I never thought I would teach high school, so this will be something new.”
Back in Cajun Country
After she worked in Atlanta and Dallas, Williams moved home in summer 2015 to be close to her family again. She grew up in Lettsworth, La., about 75 miles northeast of Lafayette.
When she returned to Louisiana, Williams spent seven months working as a regional representative for former U.S. Senator David Vitter. Her father, Peter Williams, is a lobbyist.
“It was during that time that I decided I was going back to school, because I was back home in Louisiana,” Williams said. “Both of my parents graduated from UL [Lafayette], as well, so I definitely wanted to get my master’s there. It usually takes two years, but I finished it in one year and one semester. I didn’t want to be in school again for a long period of time, so I took three classes and did two over the summer while working a full-time job.”
Williams also had her tuition paid because she was a McNair Scholar as an undergraduate student. In the MBA program, she maintained a full-time job as assistant general manager at Hilton’s Home2 Suites location in Lafayette.
“I worked from 8 to 5 and then went to class,” she said. “I’m not married and don’t have any kids. I have two Yorkie Terriers, so they didn’t see me as much. They are very excited I’m finished with school.”
Williams said all of her family and friends gave her moral support, but her dad consistently went the extra mile to help her push through and graduate.
“My dad has always been that person who looked over my papers and things of that sort,” she said. “When I told him I was going back to school, he said, ‘Oh, well, I guess I’m going back to school, too.’ He used to always tell me that he should be walking on the stage with me because any time I would finish papers, I was like, ‘Look, I need you to review this and edit it.’
“At my graduation party, I presented him a mock diploma. I got a mimic of my diploma made for him. It had Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Master of Business Administration. Where [UL Lafayette President] Dr. [E. Joseph] Savoie signs his name, I put ‘Daughter in charge’ and signed my name. He was definitely surprised to see that. I told him, ‘You can’t walk on the stage, but I’ve got your diploma.’”
She’s Lovin’ It
Williams developed a passion for customer service when she got her first job at McDonald’s while in high school.
“I just fell in love with customer service, talking to people and making them happy,” she said. “If they were upset, I wanted to make sure I turned that frown into a smile. My dad was the one who told me that, ‘You can go to school for this with hospitality.’”
Once she started the bachelor’s degree program, Williams was set on becoming a hotel manager.
“I always knew if I got into hospitality, I wanted to do hotels,” she said. “I never wanted to do restaurants, but that definitely changed after I took my restaurant classes at UL [Lafayette]. It changed after doing Lunch Club, where we had to run our own restaurant, create the menus and carry everything out.”
Before she left the Hilton in Atlanta, she was in the management development program for front office and food and beverage, and helped manage the hotel’s five restaurants. She was hooked. One of the long-term goals for the hospitality program at Friendship Capitol is for Williams and her students to cater events for the school and, eventually, local events for Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Broome.
Williams got her foot in the door for a shot at the position because her father, who also owns a garden nursery, is helping the school put in a garden for the students to use.
“The principal was talking about how he wanted to do a hospitality program,” she said. “My dad was like, ‘Not to brag, but I know the perfect person for this position.’ So, they talked to me, I interviewed and they knew I had the experience and the knowledge. Plus I’m still young, so the students will be receptive toward me and will be willing to learn from me.”
Feeding Her Brain
Williams said the MBA program provided her with extensive knowledge she was able to apply to her job at the hotel, which she will also be able to apply as a teacher.
In a business systems, analysis and technology course, BSAT 518: Management of Information Technology, Williams learned about data mining and how to apply data to manage more effectively.
“For one of our projects, we had to take something and find out a long-term formula to apply to it,” she said. “I wanted to see how long it should take a breakfast attendant to clean up from the time breakfast ended to the time it should be completed. I was literally able to take the time the breakfast attendants clocked in and clocked out, use that data for an entire month, and then come up with a formula.
“I put in the occupancy of the hotel and it told me how long it should take that breakfast attendant to clean, so I knew whether I needed one breakfast attendant or two breakfast attendants, depending on how busy that hotel was.”
She also thoroughly enjoyed MKTG 535: Contemporary Marketing Issues, taught by Dr. Ram Thakur.
“The things I didn’t know were how all of the social media platforms came about, how they are used and how they can bring a business customers when they’re used wisely,” Williams said.
Williams said the most important factor when it comes to succeeding in the MBA program is motivation.
“I always tell people, ‘You definitely need to know for sure your reasons for getting a master’s, and you’re definite on getting it. It’s very time consuming, and if you are not determined to get it, you will not make it,’” she said. “You have to have that mindset that, once I start, I’m going to finish it.”
Even though she was extremely busy while in school, Williams is already reaping the benefits of the MBA in her career. Plus, she’ll have a nice new degree to hang up in her new office at Friendship Capitol High School.
“I always tell people, ‘I’m from Lettsworth, but I’m not worth less,’” she said.
Learn more about the UL Lafayette online MBA program.