When you speak to Ashley Griffith, you will immediately sense her warmth and how she cares about everyone with whom she interacts. This is why she is a perfect fit for the international hospitality degree program at Saint Leo University and a career of bringing joy to others.
Known to many as “Ash G,” the 21-year-old hails from the Caribbean island of Barbados. She is the middle sibling of her two brothers, Deshon and Jevanni. In 2019, she graduated from The Lodge School, a secondary school in Barbados.
Making a Connection with Saint Leo University
Griffith explains how she first learned about Saint Leo.
“They have an annual college fair in Barbados with schools from all over the U.S. and Canada there,” Griffith says. “I visited every table to see which degree programs they offered and to make sure they knew me. When I got around to the Saint Leo table, the representative there was so bubbly and very personable. He took down all of my info and told me that he could see the ‘Lion’ in me.”
She applied and didn’t think too much of it. An enrollment counselor called and emailed her a few times to check in with her and ask how she was doing. She says while her parents wanted her to attend a university in her home country, she was hoping to broaden her horizons by taking a chance at a new adventure.
“I took up a summer job to buy my airline ticket to Tampa,” she recalls. “I booked the flight and only knew one week before I was flying out that I was officially going to attend University Campus.”
Upon her arrival, an orientation leader picked her up from the airport.
“She didn’t just tell me generically where I was going to live on campus and good luck,” Griffith explains. “She actually walked me to my room and introduced me to my two roommates. To me, this showed she truly cared.”
She says she and her roommates as a freshman, one from Ocala, FL and the other from The Bahamas, immediately hit it off. Even though she was living in a new country and culture, she immediately felt like part of the family on campus.
“I’m pretty sure I am the only student on campus from Barbados, but I have never felt lonely at all,” she says.
Why an International Hospitality Management Degree Made Sense for Griffith
In terms of academics, she selected the BA in international hospitality management degree program with a specialization in hotel and resort management. And why did she know she would be a perfect fit for this major?
“Barbados has a tourism-driven economy. I always grew up seeing tourists around. In the Caribbean, we try to be very hospitable, smile at them, and give them directions if they are trying to get around. I kind of grew up with this hospitality mindset. I realized these experiences are golden.”
At age 11, she visited a resort for the first time.
“Everyone treated me like royalty when I stayed there,” she recalls. “I know a lot of students are unsure about choosing a major, so I’m blessed to know that hospitality is for me. It’s just in my nature to work in this industry.”
Highly Supportive Faculty Members in the Undergraduate Degree Program
Two professors in the international hospitality degree program have been a big help to her academically.
“Dr. [Lionel] Thomas is a really great professor,” she says. “I had him for Intro to Hospitality Management. He worked in the hospitality industry for many years, and he does a great job of relating his experiences to us. I’ve had him for four classes, and he always incorporates something practical in all of them.”
In one such course, she participated in a hotel simulation group activity to learn about how hotels manage their budgets and how these decisions impact guest services and the overall customer experience. She also got to try her hand at the cutting-edge Simulated Experiences at Saint Leo technology.
“This was top-tier, 10-out-of-10 stuff. This technology allows students to do scenario training in any industry. We got to do simulated experiences with customers, managers, and colleagues. The real-time feedback we get is great.”
Dr. Judy Holcomb has also stood out to her. She had her for a class on lodging operations.
“In one of her classes, we talked about how hotels manage their laundry facilities,” she recalls. “We got to take a tour of the JW Marriott Water Street location in downtown Tampa. The general manager told us all about outsourcing laundry services, and we had just learned about this in class.”
Valuable Roles Outside of the Classroom
Griffith has been highly engaged in Saint Leo’s University Campus community outside of her international hospitality management degree program. She currently serves as vice President of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality chapter.
“This is a national, student-led organization for minorities pursuing careers in hospitality,” she explains. “We work together by building up one another, developing our professional portfolios, and finding opportunities to network in the hospitality industry. We have about 20 active members in this chapter.”
She is also a founding member of the Sigma Alpha Pi chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) and works as a Success Networking Team (SNT) coordinator.
“We are bringing in and building up students to be leaders of the future. We have had some leadership workshops and other events, but we are still so new, so we have a lot of ideas on what we would like to accomplish. My role is to meet with students throughout the semester to help them with goal setting and being accountable. I also pair students with an accountability partner to help them achieve their goals. There are lots of benefits to being involved in this chapter.”
The group has even been involved with some question-and-answer sessions facilitated by NSLS with Barack Obama, Jack Black, and other well-known names.
Plus, she has worked as a student ambassador through which she interacts with prospective students and their family members by phone, on Zoom, and in person.
“I like being able to show potential students, parents, and families about everything Saint Leo University has to offer,” she says. “I love making a positive impact on others because this makes me feel like I’ve done something big to help them.”
Additionally, she serves as a peer mentor. She meets with students weekly in this role.
“I want students to be able to come to me for advice and get some one-on-one time with them to talk about whatever is on their mind. Sometimes it’s easier to ask fellow students certain questions rather than your professors, and that is why we have this program.”
Another hat she wears is that of an orientation leader.
“I think this is my favorite position of all time. We are the guides, the life of the party, and the face of what new students see and experience when they arrive on campus or even before this in a virtual setting. As a team, we have a great dynamic and can lean on each other. I love bringing my energy to the team and to the new students we welcome to campus.”
Thanks to all of her roles promoting Saint Leo University, she sums up the most important benefits she wants all prospective students considering Saint Leo to know.
“You should choose Saint Leo because you’ll love the person you become here. You could get lost in the sauce at a bigger school, and you are not just a statistic here. You will also feel at home here. As new college students, we are leaving the nest, and we are trying to find a place where we do feel at home after leaving your actual home. When you do arrive on campus, open your mind, and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.”
Core Value Considerations
When it comes to the six Saint Leo University core values, personal development and excellence are two that have meant so much to her.
“Personal development is my No. 1 core value. I say this because I’ve always been very outgoing, but I thought I might have to hold myself back a little when I first came to Saint Leo. I quickly Realized that I don’t need to do this at all because I’m becoming the best version of myself. Also, as a whole, excellence is something I grew up with in my life. My Aunt Vanessa helped raise me, and she taught me that even if you aren’t the best in your class, you can be the best version of yourself.”
Recognition for Her Hard Work
This past spring, Griffith was honored to receive the Outstanding Junior Award.
“This was the most surprising moment of my life,” she confides. “I was not expecting it at all. I’m a very emotional person, and I cried when I got the award. Hearing the description about me at the awards ceremony meant so much to me.”
She notes several supporters who have encouraged her over time to ultimately reach this achievement.
“My aunt has been my No. 1supporter,” she says. “All of my faculty members have been amazing, and Carol Hope-Grant has also been big for me. My friends have been there for me too. I have to be my biggest motivator as well. Lots of people can encourage you, but you still have to push yourself every day. I also know that I can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me.”
Working Toward a Rewarding Hospitality Career
Griffith has been lucky enough to dip her toes in the industry she is so passionate about. For a brief stint, she worked as a guest services coordinator at the Savannah Beach Hotel in her home country.
“I planned activities for guests, made restaurant reservations, and did everything I could to give our guests the best experience possible,” she says.
A couple from the United Kingdom even mentioned their positive interactions with her on their comment card after their stay.
“This experience impacting people’s lives in a positive way is so rewarding.”
Her career goal is to own and operate a sustainable hotel chain.
“Growing up, I was a bit of a science geek. I have enjoyed researching sustainability and ecotourism. During my freshman year at Saint Leo, we had a guest speaker in a class who is part of a sustainable lodging company in the Amazon called Amazonia Expeditions. We have been destroying our planet for a long time, and I try to do my little part to help the cause. I would love to start a chain of hotels in the Caribbean along these lines.”
An Artistic Eye
As for hobbies, she enjoys singing and will try to harmonize to almost anything. Painting has been a big passion of hers since age nine as well.
“I have painted landscapes, still life scenes, flowers, beaches, hills, and so much more. I have become an avid anime fan, so I enjoy drawing and painting anime characters. Art is very therapeutic for me, and I will listen to music while painting.”
Wise Words for a Driven Young Lady
She lives by a very special mantra, a message she delivered as the student body president during her secondary school commencement ceremony.
“My mantra says, ‘Aim for the stars and believe that you can reach them, but never forget to build yourself a rocket to get there.’ Basically, you can have big dreams, but you have to work hard to get there. Never forget that you can always learn, develop, and become the best version of yourself.”
Photo credit: The photographs included in this blog article were provided by Ashley Griffith and are used with permission.