Ashlyn Ooi discovered her passion early in her college career, and it’s one that suits a hospitality management major perfectly. Ooi truly loves to serve others, and it became clear to her at her first job that she wanted to turn that drive into a career.
"I'm definitely a restaurant management girl,” Ooi says, though it was not always so. Her plan was to major in studio art as an undergrad, but that changed when she began working at age 17 at JJ Tea House on Main St. in Columbia. What she expected to be simply a way to make money sparked a passion for the restaurant world that soon led her to pursue a hospitality management degree, and she has never looked back.
"I just really enjoyed my time there, all the experiences with other people and interactions with the guests,” she says. “I made so many friends and I guess I've just blossomed in the industry."
Ooi carried her passion outside her major too. Ooi served as a student ambassador for the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management and helped found the Global Community Club, serving as vice-president and helping it grow quickly as a place for people from different backgrounds to connect.
“I’ve been able to help so many people as an ambassador,” Ooi says. “And bringing that club which has such a diverse nature to UofSC and HRSM is really great."
The club is open to all UofSC students and includes several international students. It provides an atmosphere of welcome and support for all who join, including those far from home. With a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Asian immigrants since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, havens like the club may be more important than ever.
“Those who have joined are interested in learning about other cultures and have the want to stand up for those in need,” Ooi says. “For myself being half Chinese, I know at a very personal level what these hate crimes have done towards the Asian communities here at UofSC and across the U.S.”
Ooi’s spirit of service has made her stand out as a leader in the club, as well as in her other pursuits on campus.
“She has a Gamecock spirit and has been key at explaining UofSC and U.S. traditions to international and domestic students on topics including tailgating, Halloween, and what to do in Columbia. She is always positive and a ray of sunshine for our students that come to study with us from all over the world,” says Global Community Club Advisor Christina Sayers. “Ashlyn has a positive attitude and ability to connect with so many different backgrounds. International relations come easy to Ashlyn and I am excited to see where these skills take her.”
As a senior, Ooi earned the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management Dean's Award for Outstanding Leadership. The award recognizes a graduating senior nominated by faculty or staff for significant contributions to the college, including outstanding leadership in a student organization and positive impact on the college through service as an HRSM ambassador.
In addition to her active role in campus organizations, Ooi also went above and beyond in the classroom. As part of her hospitality management degree she took an experiential learning restaurant management course at McCutchen House, the student-run restaurant on the Horseshoe at UofSC. It reinforced her love for the industry, and she continued to work there as a student intern and plans to serve as a graduate assistant next fall.
Her role as an intern included helping McCutchen House through the pandemic and stepping into a leadership role.
"I learned what students were and were not allowed to do and all the safety measures during the pandemic, and I was able to guide them,” she says. "I feel like I've taken that leadership position in a lot of areas of my life here at UofSC. I'm very grateful and happy that I've been given the opportunities to take on those roles."
Taking on so much responsibility sometimes presented a challenge for Ooi, and she says her time management skills have developed during her time as a college student.
"I'm one of those people who will always say 'Yes, I can do that for you.' Taking a moment to step back and ask myself 'Wait, can I actually?' is one of my biggest challenges."
Ooi says the faculty and staff at the College of HRSM have been a tremendous help to her from the beginning of her college career. Their guidance along with the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism being one of the top 10 schools of its kind in the United States made the decision to stay at South Carolina for graduate school an easy one.
"Knowing I have the opportunity to learn more from this faculty, there was really no other option in my mind,” she says.
The decision to deepen her knowledge of restaurant management will strengthen her skills as a hospitality leader, and it also prepares her to pursue a second passion related to service — teaching.
"My experiences with the professors at the University of South Carolina have kind of set in my mind that I'm going to be a professor one day,” she says. "The experiences I've gained in leadership positions and my role at McCutchen will definitely help me in my future career.”