Brooklyn, NY — “Every time I step into a hotel, I fall in love again,” says Keila Joann Jimenez, whom New York City College of Technology (City Tech) has chosen as its 2012 Salutatorian (second in her class).
Jimenez, who will receive a bachelor of technology degree in hospitality management, summa cum laude, at City Tech’s June 4 commencement at Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, has a passion for the lodging operations industry. This summer she will work as an intern at a Manhattan luxury hotel, moving one step closer to her goal of becoming a lodging operations executive.
On her journey to fulfilling that aspiration, 21-year-old Brooklyn-born Jimenez, who lives in Clinton Hill, has been on the Dean’s List throughout her four years at City Tech, won a Partridge Invitational Scholarship and New York State Merit Scholarship, and will graduate with a bachelor of technology degree and a 3.92 GPA, the highest in her department. She credits her parents, particularly her mother, with encouraging her to succeed academically.
The College chose Jimenez as Salutatorian in recognition of her hard work and high grade point average, as well as the values and ideals she has exemplified. Jimenez, whose parents are originally from Puerto Rico, has achieved more than just academic success: she is the first person in her family to attend college, worked five days a week while in school full-time, and is a role model for her two younger sisters, one of whom now attends City Tech. She also conquered her biggest challenge: shyness.
Working in any “front of the house” hotel position, such as guest relations, “isn’t the place to be shy,” explains Jimenez, who says she was very timid when she first came to City Tech. But her experiences at the College caused her to change.
Her mentor, Professor Susan Lifrieri-Lowry, gave her a leadership role in the Anna Nurse Culinary Workshops; Jimenez became secretary of the club, and last year won an Anna Nurse Scholarship. “It helped me a lot with my confidence,” she says. “I had to be in charge and shyness went out the door. I can stand in front of people and give direction. I can express myself; I actually have a voice now.”
In addition to her academic work and receptionist job at a law firm, which sometimes requires an hour and a half commute each way, Jimenez volunteers for Spoons Across America and its annual event at Gracie Mansion, where public school students, who are learning how food is grown and prepared, create a dinner for their families.
She credits City Tech with several life-changing experiences. Last summer, with the College’s support, she participated in the Paris Exchange Program, her first time away from home. “I learned a new language, saw another culture, and learned a lot about myself,” she says. The experience motivated her even more toward her career goal, allowing her to exercise her communications skills, willingness to learn and curiosity about other cultures.
At City Tech, Jimenez says, she found a second family in the faculty. “They’re always available for us. My professors are always mentoring and advising me.” In turn, she mentors her sisters, encouraging a sister who is also studying at City Tech to finish her degree, no matter how long it takes. She has already started motivating her youngest sister, who will be starting high school in the fall, to think about college.
“I tell them, ‘If you fall, what matters is how you get up,’” she says. “Overcoming struggles made me a stronger person. I have those nights when I just sit in a corner and start crying because I’m stressed out,” Jimenez admits, “but my sisters have seen that it all pays off.” In fact, she intends to pursue a master’s degree after several years in the hotel business, and possibly return to City Tech to teach.
For new City Tech students, Jimenez’s advice is, “Be prepared for the road that awaits you. College is difficult; there will be times when you want to give up, but during those times you should think about your goals in life and use that to motivate you to keep going.” For those considering a career in the hospitality industry, she advises, “Be sure it’s what you want to do, because it’s rough. You work long hours, weekends and holidays. You must be very passionate and dedicated to be successful in this industry.”
New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.