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The International Quality of Life Awards/New York Study Tour, offered exclusively to students in Auburn University's College of Human Sciences, is unlike any other trip to the Big Apple.
The four-day trip included visiting some of New York's main attractions, such as the 9/11 Memorial, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chelsea Market and Meatpacking District, and taking in a Broadway show. But when the study tour was created in 2011, it included sites no one could see on their own.
Special access to the New York Stock Exchange, a fashion house, some of New York's boutique hotels, and the Sesame Street Workshop is granted for the Auburn students who are selected to attend the annual tour. In 2012, 14 students attended with four faculty members.
The tour always culminates with the annual International Quality of Life Awards at the United Nations, which is not open for public visits.
Susanne Sturdivant, a senior in hotel and restaurant management, had been to New York before, but admitted the study tour was "a whole different experience because everything that we saw on this trip was nothing like what I saw on the last trip, so it was kind of like going for the first time."
The New York Stock Exchange was a new experience for everybody because it is not open to the general public. Auburn students not only got inside the historic Wall Street landmark, but also witnessed the ringing of the opening bell from the trading room floor.
Tara Dziedzic (pronounced judge-ic) made the stop even more special. The 1996 Auburn psychology graduate is a managing director in the Global Corporate Client Group at NYSE. She explained how the exchange works, what her job entails, and how she got from the Plains to the financial capital of the world.
Experiencing the NYSE from the inside and hearing Dziedzic's personal journey, which included graduating from Auburn and moving to London without a job, inspired all the students regardless of major.
"The whole experience was completely fascinating," said Ali Kidwell, a senior in interior design. "I really love that she graduated with a liberal arts degree, but she went into economics. That was really inspiring. You can do anything you want from graduating from Auburn. You can go into any field and do anything you want."
Sara Gardner, a senior in apparel merchandising, design and production, was anticipating the visit to Kay Unger New York, a high-end fashion line, until she realized there was much more to gain from the tour than simply seeing one's own major.
"Even though we did only visit one fashion-related place, I was able to meet some different alumni and ask them questions about jobs," said Gardner. "I thought that was definitely a bonus of the trip."
Auburn alumna Katy Law relishes in being included in the New York Study Tour because it's the opportunity to share what she has learned in her career.
"It's not about the beginning or the end of your journey, but the incremental things along the way that really make a difference," she said.
As director of sales for Thompson Hotels, Law provided students with a look inside the Gild Hall, a luxury chic hotel near Wall Street. She recently left Design Hotels for Thompson Hotels, but was able to give students access to the Standard Hotel, a Design Hotels property. Law even hosted a lunch at another Design Hotels property, Hotel Americano in Chelsea's art district.
Auburn alumna Christie Carlisle, who is currently living her dream designing evening wear for Kay Unger, is more than willing to open up the doors of the high-end fashion house to Auburn students.
"It's really important to me to give back to the program because they've been so supportive of me, even past graduation," she said.
Carlisle swears it was her Auburn education that got her an internship with Kay Unger in 2003, which led to a full-time job. Erin Onoforio, a 2008 alumna, said she got her design job with Kay Unger because Carlisle noticed she too earned an Auburn degree.
After meeting alumni and other supporters of the College of Human Sciences, Eloise Faber, a graduate student in apparel merchandising, design and production, said she appreciates the true value of the NY Study Tour experience.
"When you live in New York, you do your job. You get to do fun things on the weekends, but you don't get to go behind the scenes of companies to make connections and network with people, and that's what this trip is about," she said.
It wasn't long after Ansley Norman met Law that the senior in hotel and restaurant management said she was offered an internship based on an interview Law had set up for her.
"She just took me under her wing, and I got an internship out of it," she said.
Interior design assistant professor Lindsay Tan used one of her connections to arrange for a guided walking tour of holiday store windows and lights. The new feature of the tour would not have happened without Tan's influence.
The relationship the College of Human Sciences has with PBS made it possible for this year's tour to stop at the Sesame Street Workshop. Since PBS was honored in 2010 with the International Quality of Life Award, its CEO Paula Kreger helped to arrange for students to visit the workshop. Students were pleasantly surprised they learned all about the workshop from a number of its employees, including CEO Melvin Ming.
"I'm not a HDFS (human development and family studies) major, but when we went to Sesame Street, I found every presentation really interesting," said Norman. "It just made me think about how I want to get involved in a nonprofit to make a positive impact on people."
"Everything they did impressed me," echoed Sturdivant.
Kaitlin Lolley, who is studying child life in human development and family studies, agreed that the workshop visit was enlightening as it related directly to her major, but she said the NYSE, Kay Unger, the Chelsea Market and the holiday walking tour were equally amazing. She credited the tour guides and hosts for making the tour truly memorable.
"This was the most incredible experience I've done through Auburn University, by far," boasted Kristin Wallace, a senior in nutrition, dietetics and hospitality management. "I had no idea what to expect, so everything we did went above and beyond my expectations."
The tour concluded at the United Nations where students served as hosts for the annual IQLA banquet. This year's black-tie affair honored Alastair Summerlee, president of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, as the IQLA Laureate, and Jimmy and Chris Pursell of Sylacauga, Ala., owners of Pursell Farms and FarmLinks, with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Last Updated: Dec. 18, 2012