By Jamie Shoaf, '11
After years of experience in the restaurant industry, Jerry Clemmer, C'11, landed a job in December 2005 as the General Manager of Heilman Dining Center at the University of Richmond. After thriving in this position for three years, Clemmer made the decision to become a closer part of the Richmond family by enrolling as a student with the School of Continuing Studies.
In 1989, Clemmer enrolled at Memphis State (now the University of Memphis). With only one more semester to go and looking forward to graduating, he instead had to leave the school to return home to the family business in Houston.
Although he enrolled in classes in Houston to finish his undergraduate degree work, a promotion to a position in Washington, D.C., tore him away from home. From this moment on, Clemmer begain living life as a “corporate gypsy,” moving with his family from city to city.
A life of continually moving to new restaurants and hotels in new cities might seem a bit restless, but Clemmer gained a lifetime worth of experiences over this time.
From working at Windows on the World, located at the former World Trade Center, to planning an inaugural ball for George W. Bush in 2004, he met countless influential individuals through his experiences in the restaurant industry.
Clemmer found himself in the Richmond area as a result of an opportunity with Omni Hotels downtown. He soon joined the University's dining services staff.
Since leaving Memphis, Clemmer had wanted to finish his education, and he saw a perfect opportunity to fulfill this goal after working at the University of Richmond.
“I was most motivated [to return to school] by the culture at the University of Richmond. When you work here, the corporate culture is designed to [help you] further your education with flexible hours and support from your employers to work on your education that you don’t see many other places,” he says. He finds perfect harmony between work and school with this combination.
With 100 percent of his tuition covered by the University as an employee, the financial aspect of deciding to return to school was virtually non-existent. Additionally, the Weekend College schedule is ideal for someone working during the week and into some nights, as classes meet Friday nights and Saturdays.
“The most important thing, whether Richmond pays for your tuition or not, is if your boss supports you leaving work for school in certain circumstances... This is something you simply cannot find anywhere else.” Clemmer acknowledges the support of his boss, Campus Dining Executive Director Bettie Clarke.
Clemmer believes that it is imperative to hold a bachelor’s degree during an economic downturn in order to be hired or promoted.
Although enrolling in Weekend College constricts time Clemmer can spend time with family, he has found a way to incorporate his studies with his family. Studying with his family, he often reminds his daughter, “There are two kinds of people: the educated and the poor.” By studying with his family, Clemmer makes up for family time lost to classes.
Clemmer prides himself on his 3.96 GPA as he enters his final semester. He originally majored in accounting during his initial undergraduate studies years ago, so Clemmer never imagined himself pursuing a degree in liberal arts. Despite this, his studies have already contributed to his managerial skills at Richmond.
“I really grasped the importance of some of these issues that most people think are common sense after taking an environmental studies class. This class really drove the issues much deeper, and I have incorporated a lot of these themes through green initiatives at the Heilman Dining Center,” he says.
In general, Clemmer finds the degree program exposes him to a broader view of how things work. In a recent leadership class, he says he now has the perspective of “stepping back academically to see how good and bad leaders operate, and see if you are handling things the right or wrong way” — an especially important skill for a manager.
With the broad scope of a liberal arts education, Clemmer finds that his academic experiences even help him relate better to his employees. He has incorporated this broader perspective into staff meetings, opening some of them up with off-topic subjects to initiate the flow of ideas.
Following graduation, Clemmer aims to continue his education at Richmond as he hopes to enroll in the Richmond MBA in the Robins School of Business.
His goal is to continue being a leader in the school. Clemmer sees himself “retiring from the University of Richmond and being here at least another 30 years.”