By: Tiffany King
August 14, 2019

Taking Advantage of Every Opportunity

By Tiffany King

Famed American writer William Arthur Ward once said, “Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.” College of Coastal Georgia junior Monica Linares has certainly seized every opportunity in her quest to earn her degree. She has pursued resources and guidance available through the College and experienced the benefits of doing so. Her mentality of “just go for it” has opened doors that in turn have opened other doors.

College of Coastal Georgia Junior Monica Linares.Linares is majoring in hospitality and tourism management, and is set to graduate in fall 2020. Her dream job is to work for an airline, but her immediate career plans include staying in the area after graduation to continue working in the local hospitality and tourism industry. She currently works at The Lodge at Sea Island as a hostess in The Oak Room and Colt & Alison restaurants.

Linares’ path to success has often been difficult, but she continues to make the best of every situation. In 2015, at the age of 17, her family moved from El Salvador to Brunswick, where she attended Brunswick High School to finish her junior and senior years. However, there was one large obstacle she had to overcome—she couldn’t speak English.

“During my first week [at Brunswick High School] the teacher wanted me to write, but I couldn’t understand. I remembered from my classes in El Salvador how to ask for certain things and I was able to ask someone at lunch, ‘Can I sit here?’ That was the basics of what I knew,” Linares said. “I was then put into a program to learn English—which I did in about three months.”

Linares had her sights set on higher education and earning a degree specifically from the College of Coastal Georgia. For her senior graduation project, Linares had to choose a possible career of interest and find a mentor in that field. She learned about the launch of the College’s new hospitality and tourism program and selected that career for her project. Linares asked her father’s boss at Frederica Golf Club to be her mentor, which opened her mind to all the possibilities the hospitality and tourism industry has to offer.

“That’s how everything started,” she said. “I love that field and everything we do because we make people happy.”

When an Opportunity Arises

When Linares wanted to go to college, she knew that Coastal Georgia would help her—with potential scholarships, advice, and other resources. During her freshman year, her advisor recommended that she find a job in the hospitality and tourism industry to gain experience. Little did she know that this one piece of advice would start a chain reaction of scholarship and mentorship opportunities.

Linares is a recipient of the 2019 Hyatt Hotels Fund for Minority Management Students from the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Foundation (AHLEF). It is a very well-respected scholarship in the industry, established by Hyatt in 1988 to provide financial aid to minority students pursuing a degree in hotel management or hospitality. Before Linares became a hostess for The Lodge, she did turndown service, and during that time, a golf tournament was held on Sea Island to raise money for the scholarship. She met one of the participants of the tournament, Douglas Browne, president of Peabody Hotels and Resorts in Tennessee.

“I was talking to him and realized that he spoke Spanish. As we talked, I told him that I was a hospitality student. He gave me his card and told me to contact the human resource department of his hotels one semester before graduation to see what they can do for me,” she said.

Later when her advisor posted information about the Hyatt Hotels Fund scholarship, Linares connected the dots of working at Sea Island during the fundraiser for the scholarship and meeting Browne. She decided to apply and informed Browne afterwards about her submission. Linares eagerly waited to find out if she was a recipient. Soon, she saw a video on AHLEF’s Instagram page of award packets being prepared for mailing, and hoped one of them had her name on it. After receiving a message from FedEx about a special package coming to her from Washington, D.C., and a call from the organization confirming her enrollment at the College, her package finally arrived, announcing her as a scholarship recipient.

“I think things happen for a reason,” she said. “During my freshman year, most of my classmates were juniors and seniors who talked about having jobs in hotels and restaurants, but I never had a job. When my advisor told me that I needed a job for experience, I agreed. And it’s great because I’ve met different people like [Browne].”

Through her job Linares has met CEOs and once prepared a room for Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

“I was so excited for that. I had a bodyguard in the room with me and I thought, wow this person is really important,” she said. “I’ve made rooms for different senators and it’s been so exciting.”

Linares shared another occasion of how following the advice to get a job opened the door to a scholarship. Last semester, she saw an announcement while at work at the Lodge about a leadership class being offered by the Sea Island Company. She quickly applied and was accepted into the course after a vigorous interview process. The facilitator of her course then told her about a new scholarship program being offered by the Sea Island Property Owners Association. The association wanted to recognize and express their gratitude to loyal, hardworking employees. The recipients of the scholarship would be non-management team members or members of their families who are in need of financial assistance and attend the College of Coastal Georgia. As an employee of Sea Island and a Coastal Georgia student, Linares was encouraged to apply. Linares was named along with four other students as the inaugural group of recipients of the SIPOA Scholarship at a special reception in July.

Another scholarship opportunity came her way when Dr. Richard (Robby) Roberson, coordinator of the Culinary Arts Program and associate professor of Hospitality and Tourism, brought in guest speaker Tamie Cook, culinary director for Be Square Productions, to talk with students and share her experiences. Cooke is a member of the Les Dames d’Escoffier International’s Atlanta Chapter. Les Dames d’Escoffier International is a philanthropic organization of women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage, and hospitality. The organization offers a scholarship for female culinary and hospitality students. Linares applied, was selected, and will attend a special reception in Atlanta this month for scholarship recipients.

Taking Advantage of Resources

Opportunities to excel have also presented themselves to Linares in other ways since becoming a Mariner. As a first-generation student, Linares is part of the TRiO Student Support Services program at the College. TRiO is a federally funded program dedicated to improving the success rates of first-generation students who come from low-income families, or have disabilities. When Linares was having a hard time with her classes, TRiO helped her through their tutoring services. All the time spent at TRiO not only helped her improve but counted towards earning a spot on TRiO’s Spring Break trip to Washington, D.C. this year. She was also awarded a grant from TRiO and, when she needed a recommendation for a scholarship application, TRiO Director Jennifer Silva was able to provide one. Linares appreciates that even though Coastal Georgia is a small school, the College is very focused on helping students succeed.

Linares said she has received about $10,000 in scholarships.

“I said to myself ‘Monica, do you remember when you were applying for College and thought your biggest obstacle would be money? Well it’s not.’ The College provided these opportunities and everything comes for a reason. I wouldn’t have known about the scholarships if I wasn’t working at Sea Island and I wouldn’t have the job at Sea Island if my advisor didn’t tell me that I needed experience in the industry. Everything connects and I really like that,” she said.

Linares strongly advises other students to look into scholarship opportunities and resources offered by the College, jobs, and community organizations.

Favorite Moments So Far

Although Linares still has some time left at the College, she knows she will definitely miss her professors after graduation. Her professors always make time to help her with coursework and check in on her progress. She has even been able to connect with her online professors at the College.

“I was taking a class online through another USG [University System of Georgia] college and we were 30 students from different schools. I didn’t like it because I didn’t get to know my professors. However, with the online professors here, even if you haven’t logged into the system they’re still checking on you. They take care of you,” she said.

In one of her first hospitality courses, every week her class would visit different businesses in the industry, such as Sea Island, Jekyll Island Club, and Halyards.

“I think that’s a class every freshman should take no matter their major, so they can see what kinds of industries are in the area, which can help answer questions about future careers,” she said.

Another favorite class was an intensive culinary class she took during Maymester this year. Hospitality students learned about the culinary arts and different cooking techniques. At the end of the class, students cooked and served for a banquet.

Linares also enjoyed her trip to Washington, D.C. with TRiO.

“I liked that we were all different but all first-generation students. We didn’t know each other before the trip, but after the trip we all knew one another. It was nice to be with my classmates and Jen,” she said.

She couldn’t believe she was in the nation’s capital. Her favorite place was the Lincoln Memorial and she described walking all the way to the Arlington Cemetery to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched as the flowers were changed.

“That was one of the best things,” she said. “Now we’re planning to do a fundraiser for a trip to New Orleans.”

Nothing Is Impossible

Family is very important to Linares. She is inspired by her grandmother and uncle’s hard work, and like them is an inspiration to other family and friends who dream of going to college.

“Being the first in my family to go to college was a big challenge because I didn’t have someone to guide me who already had that experience,” she said. “But I feel really proud because the College has helped me a lot.”

High school friends will often message Linares on Facebook asking how to apply to the College, what information is needed, and what classes she took—and she of course encourages them to look into scholarships.

Linares has learned that anything is possible if you are willing to seize an opportunity when it presents itself.

“Work hard and believe you can do it,” she said. “I have been in positions where I could have given up, but the College has helped me a lot and has given me the resources I need. Nothing is impossible.”

Linares is also a member of the Golden Key Honour Society, the Phi Beta Delta International Honors Society, is a Peer Educator, and will be secretary of the Rotoract Club this fall.