Buffalo State College senior Jillian Hughes knows exactly what kind of career she wants—working in a private club as a manager. She loves the camaraderie country clubs and yacht clubs provide, the buzz of helping families celebrate special occasions, and the ongoing relationships developed with members.
The hospitality administration major who is slated to graduate this August is close to realizing her dream.
“Currently, I’m working at the Country Club of Buffalo and planning to stay there for the foreseeable future,” said Hughes, who spent the last half of her childhood in Hamburg and has held positions—from server to supervisor—in country clubs there and elsewhere in Western New York.
“Having a bachelor’s degree will definitely help me get more mid-level management positions in the future,” Hughes said. “And eventually, I’d like to go to graduate school.”
Her road to success has been neither straight nor easy. Hughes arrived at Buffalo State two years ago, after starts and stops at two other colleges, neither of which was the right fit. She spent several years out of school and working full time before discovering Buffalo State’s hospitality administration program.
“I finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life,” Hughes said.
Once she arrived, she immersed herself in the program. At it’s paid off.
In addition to earning top grades in her coursework, she has also served as vice president of the Buffalo State chapter of the Club Management Association of America (CMAA) and was recently selected as a lab assistant in the Multicultural Foods course (HTR 100) taught by Don Schmitter, a Buffalo State lecturer and professional chef.
For the 30-year-old student who wasn’t sure if she could swing college classes while working full time, her success has been especially impressive.
“I knew I made the right choice. All the professors in the program are very accommodating. They’ll do whatever they can to help you.”
O’Brien recalled that last fall, Hughes was always the first student to arrive in her virtual classroom and the last to sign off.
“It reminded me of the work ethic of a successful basketball player or any world-class athlete, always the first one at practice and the last to leave,” O’Brien said. “This is Jillian, working steadily on her academics, while giving her all to her employers in the hospitality industry, and serving in a leadership role with CMAA.”
Although working in the industry guided Hughes toward her major, she said, taking the Buffalo State classes cemented her decision.
“I knew I made the right choice. It’s been great,” she said, adding that Buffalo State is a friendly, welcoming campus.
“As a nontraditional student, I don’t spend a lot of time on campus outside of class,” she said. “However, I’ve gotten to know other students through group projects and other things. Even though I’m a little older, they’ve never made me feel like an outsider.”
One of the best parts of the program, Hughes said, is the opportunity to get hands-on experience, including completing two practicums with Campus House, the dining club for Buffalo State faculty, staff, and alumni.
“You work in the kitchen, you wait on guests, you bartend, and you serve as the manager on duty,” she said of the requirements within the two courses. “Working at Campus House has given me the opportunity to work on skills I can apply to my job.”
Also, she’s had the chance to learn about the industry from faculty members who have a deep knowledge from working in it.
“Kathleen O’Brien has really inspired me with all her experience in private clubs,” Hughes said. “She’s kind of been my mentor along the way.”
O’Brien also encouraged Hughes to get involved with CMAA, despite her busy schedule.
“I plan to leave the organization better than I found it,” Hughes said with a smile. “We just started a mentorship program. I’m paired with a local manager and getting guidance on the club industry.”
Steve Burgeson, who teaches the Private Club Management course (HTR 385) and has taken students on tours of local clubs, and associate professor Lori Till, who is Hughes’s adviser and has taught at least five of her courses, are faculty members, she said, who believed in her and guided her.
“Dr. Till really pushes me,” she said. “When I didn’t think I could handle as many course credits as she thought I could, she was in my corner cheering me on. Every time after I talk to her, I feel like I have the ability to run through a wall.”
Hughes attributes the support she’s received from faculty members for her high grades and overall success.
“I’ve been on the dean’s list every semester, which is something I never thought I’d accomplish out of high school,” she said. “All the professors in the program are very accommodating. I usually don’t struggle to get things done on time, but if I do, they work with me. They understand a lot of students are nontraditional and working full time. They’ll do whatever they can to help you.”
For individuals considering a return to college after a few years away, Hughes has straightforward advice: “Just do it.”
“I put it off for a very long time,” she said. “Once I enrolled, I realized how easy it was and how I could commit the time that I never thought I could.”
Video by John Myers and Ken Giangreco, Buffalo State College Creative Services.