Andrea Papitto graduated in 2012 with a M.S. in Tourism Management from the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality. She is currently Program Director at New York University (NYU) Africa House/Center for Technology and Economic Development (CTED). NYU Africa House is an interdisciplinary research institute devoted to the study of contemporary Africa, focusing on economic, political, and social issues on the continent and programs in the arts. CTED focuses on the development of innovative and cutting-edge technologies to significantly impact economic development. Spanning Africa, Asia, and the Gulf, CTED’s research covers economic theory, global labor markets, migration, and the impact of technology on development.
What has your journey been like after graduating NYU?
First, I cannot believe it has been nearly 10 years since I graduated! When I enrolled in the program in the fall of 2010, I was working on an independent documentary film – The Last Song Before the War –about a 3-day cultural music festival set in the sand dunes of Timbuktu, Mali with some of West Africa’s most revered musicians. Shortly after I graduated, I released the film with my business partners, and we decided to form a production and consulting company to work with tourism clients on marketing destinations, and to produce more documentary films. I actually wrote our business plan in my Financial Strategies course with Professor Martine Bakker and pitched it to the class as my final project! While in the program, I also interned at the Africa Travel Association (ATA) and two years after graduation I was offered a job as the Director of Communications and Trade Relations with fellow Tisch Center alum Eddie Bergman, who was Executive Director at the time. While at ATA, I worked on conferences in Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Starting at ATA and through my time at NYU, I worked with the African Development Bank (AFDB) where I managed the full research process, content creation, and PR campaigns for four editions of the Africa Tourism Monitor, the Bank’s signature research report on tourism and hospitality industries. In 2015, I transitioned to work at NYU Africa House/CTED as Program Director, where I manage our research programs, media and communications, and events in Abu Dhabi, Ghana, and New York.
Can you talk about your current role at New York University Africa House/CTED?
At NYU Africa House/CTED, I have a broad scope of challenging, exciting, and rewarding responsibilities working with people from all walks of life – from heads of states and cabinet ministers to farmers in remote villages in Ghana. I work with faculty and students to support research and fellowship programs in Africa, plan cross-campus events (conferences, seminars, galas, etc.), work on tourism and cultural heritage projects, and manage our departmental media projects and communications (marketing, websites, video production) for our programs in Abu Dhabi, Ghana, and New York. I also work on field research programs in Ghana, where we are currently conducting a randomized control trial evaluating the impact of the nascent Ghana Commodity Exchange on smallholder farmers. The tourism and cultural heritage projects that I work on are in Ghana and New York. In New York, I helped establish a museum of African art within our office space after we received a collection of art from across the continent. In the Ashanti region of Ghana, we have a CTED Research Center in a rural community and are in the process of developing a museum network by renovating historic buildings within communities, crowdsourcing artifacts, and documenting the stories of the collected items. I also used to plan a monthlong summer internship in Ghana, where 10-15 NYU students would live in the community where our research center is located and work on our field research projects. During this internship, I worked with groups of students to develop farm tours and map the tourism attractions and sites within the community. We also developed tours for Accra and the Ashanti region that are used by NYU faculty and groups when they go to Ghana. I have also been delighted to co-host events with the Tisch Center with Professor Lynn Minnaert to welcome the Ministers of Tourism from Ghana and Sierra Leone to NYU.
Having a degree in Tourism Management completely prepared me for all aspects of this job – working in a diverse environment, understanding cultural heritage preservation, planning field research study away opportunities, and, of course, planning the many annual events we host in Abu Dhabi, Ghana, and New York!
What are you passionate about in the work that you do?
At Africa House/CTED, I love supporting students and faculty to study, work, and conduct research in Africa. I studied away at NYU Accra while doing my undergraduate degree at NYU in Sociology (2005). The experience of studying and living in Ghana for five months before graduation completely shifted my trajectory and brought me to where I am today. It is very important to learn about other cultures, experience different parts of the world, and to also reflect on one’s own culture in a global context – in essence to be a tourist. Each day I know that my work contributes to expanding opportunities for the NYU community to learn more about Africa and engage in programs that could spark and sustain an interest in the continent.
In what ways has your NYU experience had an impact on your career and shaped who you are today?
It has impacted my career and life in many ways. First, I developed a wonderful network of friends and colleagues from around the world. Second, the program and people involved were extremely inspiring and influential in my career. You are in class with students from around the world who strive to be global leaders in the fields of hospitality and tourism. While I was at NYU, I developed an incredibly supportive network that has shaped my career and opened many doors for me along the way.
What career advice would you give to NYU students?
Go all in! The Tisch Center community is made of a wonderful global network of faculty, students, and alumni who are eager to support your success – take advantage of it! I knew I wanted to enroll in the Tisch Center when I had an informational meeting with Professor Sharr Prohaska to learn about the tourism program. She listened to how I wanted to transition from doing non-profit work in Africa to working with African destinations to grow and market their tourism potentials. She shared stories of work she was doing at the time on a USAID-funded project in Morocco where she was working with artisans and developing an awareness campaign to encourage tourists to “buy local” goods, rather than imported knockoffs. I was intrigued. Then, she encouraged me to meet with Tisch Center alum and ATA Executive Director Eddie Bergman. I met him the following day and started interning at the organization the next week. And this was all before I took my first class! To date, both Sharr and Eddie remain dear friends and mentors. This is just one example, but there were many more, of faculty, students, and alumni supporting each other. My best advice would be to go all in and take advantage of all the amazing opportunities the program has to offer. Do it from day one, and continue to do it after you graduate by opening doors for the classes and students that follow you.