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Eight DC Students Receive Scholarships to Pursue Continued Education in Hospitality and Tourism Industry

Washington, DC – The American Experience Foundation (AEF) today announced the recipients of its 2023 scholarship awards. The scholarships are eligible to students of Washington, DC’s five Academies of Hospitality and Tourism (Ballou High School, Jackson-Reed High School, Columbia Heights Educational Campus, Maya Angelou PCHS, River Terrace Education Campus), two Academies of Culinary Arts (Ballou High School, Roosevelt High School), three Academies of Mass Media (Ballou High School, Jackson-Reed High School, Coolidge High School) and Academy alumni in higher education. AEF has provided 58 scholarships over the past nine years which have totaled more than $130,000 in awards.


This year’s winners are:

AEF Scholarship

 •    Francisco Hernandez-Pineda, Columbia Heights Educational Campus ‘23


AEF Alumni Scholarship

•    Cenaria Fells-Watson, Towson University (Columbia Heights ’21)


AEF Honorariums

•    Abide Kao, Columbia Heights Educational Campus ‘24

•    Milan Beverly, Coolidge High School ‘23

•    Orion Williams, Coolidge High School ‘23


To honor both the memory of these hospitality industry colleagues and students in Washington, DC, AEF awarded the following scholarships:

David Iselin Memorial Scholarship for Community Service

•    JP Roberts, Eastern Connecticut State University (Jackson-Reed ’22)


Ray Bennett Scholarship for Leadership

•    Mattison McDonald, Coolidge High School ‘23


Akira Wilson Scholarship for Entrepreneurship

•    Jennifer Rivera-Martinez, Jackson-Reed High School ‘23


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.


“Of all the things we do as an organization, the most meaningful is supporting students on their education and career journeys and hearing stories about how time at DDC shaped their career goals,” said Elliott L. Ferguson, II, president and CEO of Destination DC. AEF is the official non-profit affiliated with Destination DC. “Whether it’s an internship at one of our local hotels or a scholarship to pursue a career in operations, we’re proud to help cultivate and engage the next generation of hospitality professionals with meaningful experiences.”


U.S. travel and tourism supported 15 million jobs in 2022 and 84,111* 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. In 2022, leisure and hospitality industries in DC employed over 814,000 people, 83% of 2019 employment level. Today, the industry is returning with 16.7 million jobs as of April 2022. New jobs will require a varied skillset across many different backgrounds. AEF equips local youth with the skills needed for the industry and a life-long appreciation for the history and culture of Washington, DC.


“The award recipients should 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 are a source of financial assistance that complement AEF’s range of hands-on programs supporting both Academy students and alumni on their career and educational journeys.


From 2015-2022, AEF awarded $118,000 in scholarships to 52 students. Awards are based upon demonstrated need of the applicant, solid academic performance, community service and interest in a career in hospitality.


AEF By the Numbers (2022 Annual Review):

•   225 students participated in AEF programs.

•   27 interns were hosted by AEF and Destination DC

•   Eight students were awarded scholarships.

•   Three Academy graduates became staff members at Destination DC. They include Zoe Roberts and Diamond Hunter (Jackson-Reed HS, 2018) and Cayla Lewis (Columbia Heights Educational Campus, 2019)


AEF’s growth in 2022

•    Welcomed a new Academy of Hospitality and Tourism at River Terrace Education Campus

•    Worked closely with the Academies of Mass Media at Ballou, Coolidge and Jackson-Reed high schools

•    Restarted overnight field trip programs in Washington, DC and New York City to discover the treasures of these cities and meet hospitality leaders in their businesses


AEF’s Student Advisory Committee ensures that important stakeholders have a voice in guiding the strategic vision of the Foundation. Leaders from across all ten academies, both current students and alumni, 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’s Board of Directors is comprised of 16 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

Treasurer - Gail Smith-Howard, General Manager, Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill [Retired]

Secretary- Stacy Smith, Associate Director, Division of State Initiatives


At-Large Members

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

Michael Borris, Director of Global Accounts, Encore

Skye Curry, Manager, Global Quality, Marriott International

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

Abby Himmelrich, Teacher, McLean School

Eric Kincaid, Associate Vice President of Sales

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

James MacGregor, Vice President, Local Markets, American City Business Journals, Inc

John McDonnell, President, Clyde’s Restaurant Group

Thomas Penny, President, Donohoe Hospitality Services

Rauf Shakir, Chief Executive Officer, USA Guided Tours

Alex Wilson, Jackson-Reed High School Academy of Hospitality & Tourism [Retired]


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. 

Media contact: Susan O'Keefe, s[email protected]; 202-368-6415 (c)

(*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

May 23, 2023

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