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Celebrating the Woman Next Door: Jessica Wickey Byrd

In partnership with AdventHealth for Women, we’re recognizing some of the women in our community who are selflessly giving to others while raising families, supporting their loved ones and building their careers. Whether they know it or not, their stories inspire other women in their shoes.

Jessica Wickey Byrd is an instructor at Rosen College of Hospitality Management, where she leads a team of two other faculty members who support all 3,500 Rosen College students in their internship courses. Additionally, as the director of the school’s internship program, she launched human trafficking education last summer, creating robust curriculum to enhance the students’ internship education.

She is a member of the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force, sits on the Central Florida National Academy Foundation’s Advisory Board for high schools with hospitality and tourism programs, and works with the UCF Center for the Study of Human Trafficking and World Orlando to combat trafficking.

What is your WHY?

My professional “why” is to mentor future leaders of the hospitality and tourism industry. The highlight of my day is when one of my students calls or emails me to tell me they got their dream career. Their success brings me such joy! I truly enjoy guiding them to be the “best versions of themselves” and, in the process, they teach me to be the “best version of myself.”

I have conversations with students about their career paths and strategically planning their next one/five/10 years. Often, they have the idea or notion that the grass is greener on the other side, whether that is a new position or a new company. That constant chase does not give you time to cultivate your life. The grass is not always greener on the other side, the “grass is green where you water it!” Spend time on yourself and cultivate your life by health and happiness. Take time to walk the beach, read a book, sail, walk, run, ride, sit, relax or whatever makes you happy.

On your toughest of days, what motivates you to put one foot in front of the other?

I suffered a traumatic loss of my twin sister in 2010, and my mother in 2009. Losing them changed the trajectory of my life. Prior to their deaths, I lived a very carefree life, with a modest concept of goals. After their passing, I try to consciously take advantage of time with family, time with friends, and plan strategic obtainable goals. I try to be “present” in conversations, and a better listener. Everything I do, I do with them in mind. I want to live life to the fullest, travel to every country, taste every food, and meet new people, all things they are not able to do. I often find myself stepping out of my comfort zone to take advantage of opportunities that would make them proud. Well, I hope I make them proud!

Have you drawn inspiration from other women? Tell us about someone who has inspired you.

There are hundreds of women who have inspired me! I am in awe every day at the powerful women in the world. My best friend Christie decided at 40 to completely change her career and go to school to be an environmental engineer. She is now a successful engineer. She is my hero!

I look up to women who support each other. I am a firm believer that to get to the top, you must build and develop your team around you, and take them with you. You cannot succeed by stepping on other women’s heads to get to the top. Take them with you, develop your team and create new opportunities for other women as you advance in your career. I think the success of a leader starts with the success of her team.

What is the one word that perfectly explains who you are?

I asked my husband this and he said “driven.” Can I have three words please? I live each day following the three P’s: Positivity, Passion and Productivity. When I worked in the hospitality industry, they used to call me the “Smiling General.”

Would you change anything about how you have handled challenges or successes thus far in your life?

Oh, my yes. I have made more mistakes and ended in failure than I have in successes. How you recover from the failure is a display of your character. I make it a point to never burn a bridge; I may have to walk over that bridge again. No matter how angry a situation or person makes you, be the leader and remain professional. As the great Sidney Poitier said in his book, “The Measure of a Man,” you have two options every day: how you act and how you react to other peoples’ actions. Once you realize that, it makes everything else sound like background noise.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my education. I was a non-traditional student, completing my undergraduate degree at Florida Gulf Coast University in Resort and Hospitality Management and my graduate degree at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Hospitality and Tourism Management in my 30s. And in 2019, in my 40s, I started on my doctorate degree at UCF. I am proud of my educational journey and my industry experience; together they make up my personal accomplishments.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced and what did you learn from it?

Right now, I am at the end of year two in my doctoral program, completing the EdD in Education with a focus on higher education, while working full time and teaching 1,000 students per semester. This is very challenging! I must manage my time efficiently and learn to say no. That is very hard for me, to say no. My dear friend and colleague Gisele Canova told me when you “say no to them, you are saying yes to yourself.” That really stuck with me. Another great woman gave me advice, and she said always have a “no, but” ready when you are at your limit. If someone requests me to be on a committee and I am already on five other committees, I can say “no but I would like to recommend ____, as she would be a great fit for this opportunity.” This allows me to manage my time and offers a seat at the table for another deserving woman.

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Written by Lyndsay Fogarty

Lyndsay Fogarty has had many roles at Central Florida Lifestyle, working her way from intern to contributing writer to managing editor. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication where she earned her degree in journalism. Along the way, she has learned that teamwork and dedication to your craft will get you far, and a positive outlook on the present will get you even farther.

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