Kimberly Ramsawak isn’t sure what surprised her more at the start of her tourism career: that working in travel didn’t default to only travel agencies, airlines, or hotels or that degrees in tourism actually existed.

After earning her master’s degree in tourism and hospitality management more than a decade go, Ramsawak met employers who were equally surprised, though pleased, that tourism had become a collegiate field of study when she entered the industry. She then realized her degree alone wouldn’t catch employers’ eyes, as entrepreneurs Marianna Jamadi and Katalina Mayorga also understood when they founded their tour company, El Camino Travel.

Jamadi and Mayorga were also pioneers by becoming one of the first tour companies to give each tour group its own photographer, leaving the Kodak trip moments to an expert while travelers devoted their attention to their destinations without worrying about capturing the perfect moment. They say their education was the foundation of what led them to social entrepreneurship although neither hold travel-related degrees.

The Travel Alumni Spotlight is part of our State of Travel Education series, focused on showing how universities are preparing the industry’s future talent to be thought leaders and innovators.

This spotlight highlights individual stories to offer lessons on how people reached their current positions and how their education impacted their careers. It also shows the many paths professionals took to enter the industry, highlighting how success can be achieved along multiple routes.

Professionals from travel’s digital, aviation, hospitality, and tourism sectors appear in this spotlight. Here are this week’s three stories:

Kimberly Rasawak: Founder of Tourism Exposed, professor and former tourism marketing director
School: Widener University, Temple University
Degrees: BS International Marketing, MS Tourism and Hospitality Management

“I really loved to travel but really didn’t know about tourism as an industry. I thought tourism was about being a travel agent or working for an airline or hotel which I didn’t want to do. I wanted an MBA, but didn’t consider an advanced business degree in tourism until my college told me to. I don’t think my tourism degree got me in the door to a job, but Philadelphia’s CVB really saw value in me getting my degree in tourism and that I proactively focused on getting a degree in the industry when I worked there.”

“I think the education was definitely the foundation, but definitely networking is what worked. The degree demonstrated what I knew what I was talking about and people always asked me during interviews how you can even get a masters degree in tourism.”

“Because of my degree, I figured out how to conceive a program to market to tourists at Macy’s that had never been done before. Bloomingdales just started a program like this and a lot of malls are now looking at this too. We’re also seeing this in the museum space. As more people get degrees in tourism they’ll be looking for new kinds of careers and this is one example of new ideas that will come up.”

“I teach a tourism and hospitality course at New York University (NYU) and students always ask me, ‘what can I do in the industry?’ It’s a common misconception that a career change moving into the travel industry involves working at a travel agency, airline or being a travel writer. The question I pose to my students is ‘How can you marry a nine to five corporate job and have travel be an important part of that?’ if traveling is really your passion and you don’t want to work at one of these stereotypical places.”

“While institutions are doing a relatively OK job at promoting their tourism degree programs, the industry as a whole needs to do a way better job at promoting the need for this kind of education, especially since this is one of the world’s largest industries. The industry also needs to do more promotion of a more diverse workforce and to get us away from the stigma that you can’t have a long-term career in this industry because you can. When I go to the travel trade shows, I still don’t see many young professionals, so there’s a lot of work to still be done.”

Katalina Majorga: Co-Founder of El Camino Travel
School: University of Washington, American University
Degrees: BA International Studies, MA Global Environmental Policy

“Both my Bachelors and Masters [degrees] have been grounded in work around international development, human rights, and environmental justice which have a lot to do with travel when you think about it. For the past nine years, I have traveled to various corners of the world collaborating with local communities on projects that spanned getting electricity to rural communities to responding to the consequences of climate change.”

“The idea for El Camino Travel actually manifested during one of these trips from a conversation I had with a Guatemalan taxi driver who explained how tourism is critical to combatting the drug industry in his country. He told me how tourism impacted his life personally and his ability to send his kids to school and put three good meals on the table for his family.”

“These conversations and experiences have contributed and continue to guide the way we grow El Camino Travel. In any decision we make, we are continuously asking ourselves the following questions: ‘Is El Camino contributing to the local economy in a positive way?’ ‘Are we giving back to the communities in a way that actually empowers them?’ ‘Are we thinking outside of the box and continuing to push the mold in how we can integrate social good into the experience of our travelers that feels natural and not forced?'”

“For people that are interested in starting their own company, you will need to be able to communicate why your company is different, how your company is filling a gap in the market, and what is your competitive advantage. For us, this has clearly been the photography component. There is no one else in the industry who is providing such dynamic and compelling photos on a daily basis to their travelers that they can immediately share to their social media channels.”

Marianna Jamadi: Co-Founder of El Camino Travel
School: Chapman University
Degree: BS Business Administration

“I graduated with a degree in business and knew I’d always follow creative pursuits but I decided to study business because I wanted to know how to leverage my artistic abilities. While I wished my college program had more of an entrepreneurial focus, I used that degree to start El Camino. Upon moving to NYC after college, I pursued the fashion industry and then discovered my love for photography after taking some continuing education courses.”

“As co-founder of El Camino, it’s thrilling to combine my photography skills with my love for travel as well as my business acumen. For others interested in such a career path, they need to know starting a company is exciting and terrifying. Surround yourself with people who push you, challenge you, and most importantly support you.”

Stephen Barth: Founder of HospitalityLawyer.com, Professor at University of Houston-Conrad Hilton College
School: Texas Tech University School of Law
Degree Jurisdoctorate, Law

“I was in the restaurant and nightclub business when I was younger and once I got my law degree it was kind of by happenstance that I entered hospitality law. I got invited by the program director of Texas Tech to teach a hospitality law course and that was my first introduction into this concept called hospitality law. At HospitalityLawyer, our goal has always been to break down the silos of functionalities in different fields of business because we want everyone talking to everyone.”

“The law evolves continuously, sometimes the law itself creates changes and sometimes market demand creates changes. For an example, most hotels allowed smoking in their rooms when I first started, and now I think you’ll find most hotels don’t allow that. The law changes at several levels and I often laugh because I often hear the industry, whether its airline or hotels, say it’s tired of government regulations, but the reality is that they’re tired of government regulations that aren’t in their favor.”

“Sometimes I see the industry taking a knee jerk reaction to anything that can be seen as pro labor. I’m hopeful that people realize that we can’t operate hotels or airlines without employees and I think labor relations are really something we’ll have to pay attention to in the near future.”

“The awareness level of hospitality law has really come into its own in the last 20 years or so and it’s still a fairly new concept. Hospitality law encompasses all areas of law, and these are all courses you would take in law school but are only the foundation for hospitality law, but I think at least a few law courses specific to hospitality is a good foundation. A hospitality management degree for undergrad really helps, but if you didn’t study that make sure you somehow make-up the experience, either by working at a hotel or interning at a private law firm which represents hotels.”

Photo Credit: A college classroom. velkr0 / Flickr