Out of the Kitchen (Almost) and Into the Workforce

Out of the Kitchen (Almost) and Into the Workforce

Soon-to-Be HES Grad Completes Internship in Hawaii, Aspires to Work for Disney

By David Miller

A male university student poses for a photo in front of an academic building
Tyler Higginbotham will earn a degree in hospitality management this Saturday.

Name a chain restaurant and Tyler Higginbotham has probably worked there.

From Subway to Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse to Starbucks, Higginbotham has worked in the hospitality industry since he was 16.

And as Higginbotham readies for commencement at The University of Alabama on Aug. 3, when he’ll earn a degree in hospitality management, he’s eager to build a bigger career in the industry.

Higginbotham has worked at Starbucks in Mountain Brook for the last two years and will continue to do so after graduation. His goal, though, is to fulfill an “ultimate dream” of working for The Walt Disney Co., particularly in sales and marketing with Disney’s film franchises.

“The internships for Disney open up in August, and I’m going to submit my application immediately,” Higginbotham said. “Disney has been my main goal for two years now. They’re now the biggest company in the world and number one in hospitality, so that seems like a great challenge for me. I want to put my skills to use.”

While Higginbotham has experience in the hospitality industry, he’s eager to apply the marketing, sales and management expertise he’s gained at UA. He chose to attend UA because of the strength of the hospitality management program after completing four years in the Navy and transferring from Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.

At UA, Higginbotham developed close relationships with faculty members like Carla Blakey, whom he credits for “motivating me and keeping me on my path.” Higginbotham also credits UA adjunct instructor Janet Teer, who “taught me a lot of what I know about leadership and management.”

Blakey taught Higginbotham in two classes during her first semester on faculty and later served as his faculty adviser. She said Higginbotham’s work rate and dedication, which include commuting to campus from Birmingham and maintaining a 4.0 GPA, should be a “model and inspiration” to other Human Environmental Sciences students.

“Not just students, but faculty, too,” Blakey said. “When I see students like Tyler go above and beyond, it pushes me to go above and beyond. As I got to know him, I was able to see how much he valued his education. He wasn’t just there because he had to be; he was there because he wanted to be. He was a leader in classroom discussions, took his assignments seriously, and often earned perfect scores on exams.”

Higginbotham’s hard work in the classroom led to a monthlong summer internship with Yummy Restaurant Group in Hawaii. He was one of four UA students selected for the all-expenses-paid internship. There, he worked five days a week at different Yummy-owned restaurants in and around Honolulu, including Liliha Bakery and The Signature.

“Moving around so quickly like we did, it was nerve-wracking at first,” Higginbotham said. “You’re meeting a lot of different people and having to learn certain things in a short time span, and then having to abandon it to learn something new. But once you get into the routine of when you’re going to have to change, you get used to it — you’re along for the ride.

“What I got out of that was that every person is different. It became comforting to meet different people and understand them, and to find different ways to make their experience worthwhile. And they have different cultures and backgrounds, and I find that interesting.”

When Higginbotham graduates, it will serve as another “thank you” to his mother, Toni, for setting a standard of hard work and good grades. Her example has helped him become goal-oriented and a self-motivator for school and the workforce, he said.

“She was a single parent for most of my life, and I was with her the entire time,” Tyler said. “She’s probably one of the strongest people that I know, and I learned a lot from her.”