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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Neel Patel, an Indian subcontinent American, stands in front of the green space during a sunny day at the Close-Hipp building, home of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, on UofSC's campus.

American dream comes true for first-generation student

By Allen Wallace,
Posted on November 11, 2020

Neel Patel was only six years old when his parents moved from India to Lexington, South Carolina. They brought him and his two sisters to America “for a better future, a better education for us,” he explains. When Patel graduates this December with his degree in hospitality management from the University of South Carolina, it will be the culmination of more than just his hard work in school — but of his family’s American Dream coming true.

The road to college was not an easy one. As they worked to get settled in a new country, Patel’s parents moved their family into a budget hotel where they had found jobs in housekeeping and at the front desk. But then, two years after they arrived in the U.S., his father died of a heart attack. Patel’s mother, Shilpa Patel, was on her own in a new country with three children to care for.

His mother found a way. She continued working, and still works, in hotels, and instilled her work ethic and dedication in her son, who came to love the hotel industry. As soon as he was old enough, Patel worked in hotels himself to help his family and to save up for college.

After high school, he began his college career at Midlands Tech. After two years there, Patel transferred to the University of South Carolina, majoring in the business he quite literally grew up in — hospitality management. South Carolina is home to one of the best colleges for hospitality management — ranked top 10 in the nation for hospitality and tourism management.

“There are so many different things to do in the hospitality industry, but I love hotels,” Patel says. “Every time you meet a new guest, you can build a new network and connect with them, and that interaction goes a long way.”

Making the most of every opportunity is something Patel has ingrained into his work ethic. He worked his way through college, worked hard to stand out in the classroom and diligently pursued opportunities to reduce the financial burden of tuition where he could. Earlier this year, he was selected out of more than 1,000 applicants to receive a $7,500 scholarship from the American Hotel and Lodging Foundation. He earned the national award based on his academics, financial need, relevant work experience, extracurricular activities, personal attributes and passion to pursue a career in the hotel and lodging industry.

Patel credits his professors in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management for contributing to his success at South Carolina.

“The professors are really nice and helpful,” he says. “They share job openings and internships from their connections. They're eager to help students make connections and reach our future goals.”

As a member of the graduating class of 2020 and a first-generation graduate, Patel says it feels  good to have reached his academic goal. And, he looks forward to celebrating with his mother and sisters, who will also soon be completing their degrees too.

“She’s really proud,” Patel says about his mother.

After graduation, Patel plans to continue building his career in hotel management. He is well aware of the current struggles the industry is facing due to COVID-19, but is confident about a bright future in an industry he has known all his life. He shares his passion and this advice for others considering a career in hospitality management.

“Go for it,” he says. “The industry is recovering and always growing. If you're a people person, go into the hospitality industry.”

Learn more about the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management hospitality management degree here.

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