His tale didn’t start off in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management (HRSM) but his influence in our industry and on campus can be felt around the state thanks to enthusiasm and routine trips to fill up his tank at the gas station.
A man of many trades, Darron Kirkley is a dual alumnus of the College of HRSM, earning his Master of International Hospitality and Tourism Management (MIHTM) degree in 2008 and his Master of Science in Sport and Entertainment Management (MSEM) in 2010. He is an adjunct professor in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management (HRTM), a teacher at North Central High School in Kershaw County, the director of the Pageland Watermelon Festival and serves part time as a class-three law enforcement officer.
His journey started his senior year of high school where Kirkley’s part-time web design work for the Chamber of Commerce in his hometown of Pageland, S.C., turned into something more. Darron was asked to step in after the director quit to organize and run the annual summer watermelon festival for the small town located along the South Carolina-North Carolina border. Earning the festival director title quickly, he ran with the position as he transitioned into college at the University of South Carolina, enrolling in the College of Education.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Kirkley realized the College of HRSM is where he needed to be when he was named South Carolina’s Hospitality Employee of the Year. “I talked with someone at the awards ceremony who asked why I was pursuing a degree in education when there was a hospitality and tourism management program at USC.”
Kirkley wasted little time as he jumped into the dual degree program at Carolina and began taking graduate level courses in the MIHTM program before wrapping up his undergraduate degree in education in 2007.
Having earned the state of South Carolina’s teaching fellow scholarship that mandates teaching at a public school for a minimum of four years, Kirkley made it work between teaching high school and attending graduate classes at USC.
He enjoyed his time with HRSM enough to pursue another graduate degree, this time in sport and entertainment management where he felt learning the entertainment side of the field would benefit his event experience and position in Pageland.
Today, Darron manages a busy schedule teaching three high school classes daily in Kershaw County, teaching two nights a week in Columbia at USC, part time work with the Pageland Police Department and running a watermelon festival each summer, but he loves it.
“I think it’s great to combine industry and academics,” says Kirkley. “I found my passion and enjoy teaching students from the high school level up through the program at USC. My love for tourism, hospitality and events combined with my exuberance for teaching is really exciting.”
Having taught four different courses at USC, Darron appreciates the uniqueness and practicality of the HRSM degrees citing real world examples and industry knowledge over theory and formula.
Excited to continue learning and teaching, Kirkley is pursuing his Ph.D. in hospitality management part time while balancing his other commitments. He plans to always teach at some level and to share his real world knowledge in the classroom.
“It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you,” is a phrase that SPTE instructor Sporty Jeralds echoed in one of Darron’s graduate classes that has stuck with him because of how true it rings. “This whole process is what you make of it—educating yourself, networking, utilizing workshops, professional development, setting up meetings—are all instrumental in establishing relationships and building a successful career.”