Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.
From studying journalism as an undergraduate to earning a master’s degree in sustainable tourism three decades later, Alexandra Ghiozzi has crafted her career by adding one experience to another.
The San Francisco Bay Area native graduated from Santa Clara University with a bachelor's degree in communication with a political science minor. Media jobs being few upon graduation, she took a position at a bank that appeared to have a future: manager, vice president, career stability.
“But I was bored,” said the Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ fall 2022 Outstanding Graduate from the School of Community Resources and Development. “I’d look out of my window every day and ask myself, 'Where could I be besides here at my desk?'”
Ghiozzi responded to an ad seeking airline flight attendants and wound up among 2,000 chosen from roughly 40,000 applicants. She flew on and off for four years before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed the airline industry and led to cutbacks.
“9/11 changed everything. Then I had two young children – which changed my perspective. Being gone four days a week was not conducive to raising a family,” said Ghiozzi, who today lives in Brentwood, California, about 70 miles east of San Francisco.
Staying home wasn’t the ideal choice, either. After six months at home full time, her husband told her “you’ve got to do something,” she said. Ghiozzi bought a travel agency franchise in 2005, which shut down during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She took a few online courses. One in sustainable tourism intrigued her. She then chose ASU’s online program to pursue her graduate degree in the field. Today, her business is rebuilding, she’s training an additional agent and instituting principles of sustainable tourism into her work.
She recommends her clients eat at locally owned restaurants and shop at local stores, which, along with other choices, helps benefit the economy, the environment and society as a whole. “Now I have enough knowledge to make better recommendations to my clients,” she said.
Read on to learn more about Ghiozzi’s ASU journey.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I have always wanted to go back to school for a master’s degree. I liked school and the whole concept of learning. My life got busy and the years rolled by. During the pandemic, my business as a travel advisor was completely shut down, as were many others. I spent a good deal of time playing Candy Crush and drinking wine. Then I realized I needed to use this time for something good. I enrolled in an online sustainable tourism class through Coursera and the University of Copenhagen. I had taken a few other Coursera classes over the years just for fun. This one could actually apply to my work and life.
I completed the course and travel was still on a worldwide pause. Thinking about the future and when my grandchildren would ask me, “What did you do during the pandemic?” I wanted to have a good answer. So I began looking for more in-depth online courses in sustainability, specifically in tourism. I found a few options in Europe, but that was not going to happen, so I found the online master’s program at ASU. My goal was to have a backup plan in case my business never came back. This program seemed like the ideal fit.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: Two things stand out that I will carry with me from my time at ASU:
First, education is not enough; action is required to make the kind of changes our society and the world needs to make right now. I have always been a believer in education, and if you just reasonably explain something, most people will understand and digest the information. In completing my final project literature review, I read multiple articles that shattered that belief. There must be an incentive to change and an ongoing motivation to maintain new habits. It is not enough to know facts and figures. We need to inspire behavioral change to make things better.
The second thing I embraced in my studies was the idea of existential transformation through travel. Being a lifelong traveler and working in the industry, many times I have experienced that amazing feeling of being changed, challenged or growing after a trip. Others I know have, too. I learned that there is an entire body of research, an actual field of study, about this feeling and how to create authentic experiences for the traveler. The concept itself seems quite esoteric.
But I was so excited to have an official name for that feeling.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: Other programs I looked at had a certificate in sustainable tourism as part of a broader degree in sustainability, or were part of a hotel and restaurant program. I liked that ASU had an entire master’s program devoted to exactly what I wanted to study, no more, no less. Online was important because we were in the pandemic. The price was fair and the schedule was ideal. I have to say that ASU has exceeded my expectations.
Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Two professors stand out: Dr. Rebekka Goodman and Dr. Deepak Chhabra. Dr. Goodman always kept the five pillars of sustainability front and center and did an excellent job of bringing those themes through each of the courses. She was always reminding me that sustainability is a process, not a destination, and that there are tradeoffs to everything. That is a lesson I now carry in all aspects of life.
Dr. Chhabra was tough, but very fair. The lesson I take from her courses is to be authentic. False or created experiences are not enjoyable and will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction. Experiencing authenticity in travel can lead to those transformational experiences that make us better for having traveled. I will also carry that with me.
I also want to say that my fellow students taught me so much. Being an older student, I learned from them, and they have given me so much confidence and hope in the next generation. Things are going to be OK when they are in charge.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Use all the resources available to you. ASU offers a tremendous amount of support, from professors, fellow students, success coaches, advising, study groups and more. Learning is not done alone; a good support system is very important. Remember that you are here to develop critical thinking skills, not learn a bunch of facts, figures, dates or theories. Learn how to learn and you will always be able to move forward in life.
Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for power studying?
A: My favorite place to study was in my spare bedroom that I turned into a “library.” Remember during the pandemic when every Zoom interview on TV had someone smart with a bunch of books behind them? Well, that is what I wanted. My husband wrestled for hours putting together the floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I finally had a quiet place, away from my office where I could focus only on schoolwork. It is not fancy, but it is my own space and I certainly appreciate having it.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: Luckily, my business has roared back to life. So I am going to continue running my travel agency with a new focus on making travel more sustainable and offering my clients ways to do so. I am also mentoring a new agent. I serve on the board of our local chapter of the American Society of Travel Advisors, so I hope to use that platform to bring the message of sustainable travel to a larger audience. I will also continue to travel, but mindfully, purposefully and more sustainably.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: My cynical answer is that I would establish a political action committee or hire a lobbying firm to push for fusion energy. My daughter is a physicist and has been working on fusion for two years now. While the technology is close, getting the political will to replace fossil fuel with clean, safe and cheap fusion is not so close, at least in the United States at the moment. The world needs to make some hard choices and really soon. So either we act within our existing system to affect change, or there are going to be some dire consequences.
My humanitarian answer is to use the $40 million to fund local food banks. Hunger is a problem right in our own neighborhood, and worse yet, among our school-age children. Good nutrition is the foundation of a healthy and productive life.
I have volunteered with my local food bank for two years and seen up close exactly who is in need and the difference a relatively small amount of money can make to a family.
More Environment and sustainability
ASU faculty honored for contributions to extreme heat research
In a remarkable recognition of their contributions to the field of geographical research, several faculty and researchers from…
The role of the university in changing the world
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series exploring our biggest environmental challenges. In this article, leaders from…
New ASU podcast looks at biomimicry through an Indigenous lens
The topic of biomimicry isn’t your typical water cooler conversation, but two Arizona State University professors are attempting…