Skip to main content
search search search search search search


Eight DC students receive $2,500 each to pursue continued education in the hospitality and tourism industry


Washington, DC – The American Experience Foundation (AEF) today announced the recipients of its 2022 scholarship awards. The scholarships support students of Washington, DC’s four Academies of Hospitality and Tourism (Ballou High School, Jackson-Reed High School, Columbia Heights Educational Campus, Maya Angelou PCHS), two Academies of Culinary Arts (Ballou High School, Roosevelt High School), and Academy alumni in higher education. AEF has provided 50 scholarships over the past eight years which have totaled over $100,000.


This year’s winners are:

AEF Scholarships

 Damek Bennett, Maya Angelou Public Charter School '22

 Kaiya Lewis, Maya Angelou Public Charter School '22

 Antonio Newton, Maya Angelou Public Charter School '22

 Anura Sharma, Columbia Heights Educational Campus (CHEC) '22

 Nana Sissoko, Jackson-Reed High School '22


AEF Alumni Scholarships

 Cenaria Fells-Watson, Towson University (CHEC '21)

 Britney Rivera-Martinez, Cornell University (Jackson-Reed '19)


David Iselin Memorial Scholarship for Community Service

 Jean-Pierre Roberts, Jackson-Reed High School '22


AEF aims to enrich the lives of Washington, DC high school students through educational opportunities to cultivate the next generation of hospitality industry professionals. The AEF scholarship program awards $2,500 to deserving students and alumni who have demonstrated success, leadership, and service at school, at work and in their communities.


“The American Experience Foundation is near and dear to my heart,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination DC. AEF is the official non-profit affiliate of Destination DC. “Of all the things we do as an organization, giving back to students and hearing stories about how their time at DDC shaped their career goals is impactful. Whether it’s an internship at one of our local hotels or a scholarship to pursue a career in management, we’re proud to help cultivate the next generation of hospitality industry leaders.”


U.S. travel and tourism supported 16.5 million jobs in 2019 and 79,675* jobs in Washington, DC alone. When the coronavirus pandemic started, the industry lost 5.6 million jobs and was among the hardest hit industries in the labor force. Today, the industry is retuning with 16.7 million jobs as of April 2022. New jobs will require a varied skillset across many different backgrounds. AEF provides local youth with an introduction to the benefits of travel, professional exposure to different areas of the tourism and hospitality industries, and a life-long appreciation for the history and culture of Washington, DC.


“It is important for these scholars to know they have a champion in us and that their successes are celebrated by the entire Washington, DC hospitality and tourism community,” said Claire Carlin, AEF’s Executive Director. “These scholarships complement AEF’s range of programs supporting both Academy students and alumni on their career and educational journeys. We’re especially proud to award Jean-Pierre ‘JP’ Roberts with the David Iselin Community Service Scholarship. JP’s work on the AEF Student Advisory Committee and his many accomplishments at school, his internships, and his volunteer leadership positions truly honors our late colleague’s life and legacy.”


From 2015-2021, AEF awarded $92,000 in scholarships to 42 students. Awards are based upon demonstrated need of the applicant, solid academic performance and interest in a career in hospitality.


“After the 2022 scholarships, we have surpassed $100,000 in awards and are ready to raise the next $100,000 to help students and alumni of our programs reach their career goals,” said Carlin. “We encourage donations online at”


This fall, AEF established a Student Advisory Committee to ensure that important stakeholders have a voice in guiding the strategic vision of the Foundation. Leaders from across all six academies, both current students and alumni, will help communicate with and support their peers wherever they are on their college and career paths and develop an industry-leading network of colleagues reaching from DC to across the nation.


AEF welcomed its inaugural Board of Directors in March, comprised of 15 leaders who represent hospitality businesses throughout national and local businesses. They support AEF’s mission through engagement of our workforce development initiatives, hosting internships, determining scholarship winners and raising awareness of AEF in the community.

Chair - Michael Akin, President, LINK Strategic Partners

Vice Chair - Greg Casten, Co-Chair, President, Oceanpro Industries Secretary - Gail Smith-Howard, General Manager, Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill

Treasurer - Stacy Eacho Smith, Associate Director for the Division of State Initiatives, DC Department of Employment Services


At-Large Members

Nizam Ali, Co-Owner, Ben's Chili Bowl

Lajja Ashar, Area Manager (Boston, DC, Charlotte),

Michael Borris, Director of Global Accounts, Encore

Jake de Boer, DC Area Account Lead,

Elliott L. Ferguson, II, President & CEO, Destination DC

Abby Himmelrich, Teacher, McLean School

Tanisha Lewis, Vice President for Diversity, Inclusion and Social Impact, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

James MacGregor, VP Local Markets, American City Business Journals, Inc

John McDonnell, President, Clyde’s Restaurant Group

Thomas Penny, President, Donohoe Hospitality Services

Michael Riley, ‎General Manager, Big Bus Tours DC


About: The American Experience Foundation (AEF) enriches the lives of students and young people through inspirational travel experiences, educational opportunities, and connections to professionals to cultivate the next generation of hospitality industry leaders. AEF is the non-profit affiliated with Destination DC, Washington DC’s official destination marketing organization and convention and tourism corporation.


*Sources: World Travel & Tourism Council, IHS Markit

Susan O'Keefe
Media Relations

May 13, 2022

Media Contacts

Danielle Davis
Vice President of Communications
Susan O'Keefe
Senior Marketing & Communications Manager, Trade
Nicole Nussbaum
Global Media Manager
Goldy Fogel
Global Media Manager
Kyle Deckelbaum
Domestic Media Relations Manager
Claire Deegan
Communications Coordinator
(202) 789-7059