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Friday, Sep 22, 2023

Two of County’s Top Tourism Officials Take Road Not Taken

Ever curious about how San Diego County’s top hospitality leaders spend their time when they aren’t busy touting the destination to would-be visitors, I’ve heard a few stories reminiscent of my own , visiting relatives or kids in other states , as well as some exciting accounts of gallivanting through European hot spots of which I only dream.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

But the overseas ventures of two prominent tourism officials, Cami Mattson and more recently Carol Wallace, have made a difference in the lives of some of the people in the places they visited, and though they went at different times, they had similar reasons.

Wallace, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Convention Center Corp., just returned from Nairobi, Kenya, where she chairs the board of trustees/directors for the U.S. International University of Kenya, and attended the dedication of its new library.

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The price tag for the structure, which has a capacity for 1,200 students as opposed to the old, obsolete building that could accommodate only 250 students at a time, was $7 million, of which $1.6 million came from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Wallace says.

“This is so important because the library is the heart and soul of the university,” she said, adding that donations and grants will be sought for the next year to acquire some 3,000 books to help fill its shelves.

Having served on the board since 1997, Wallace says the task has involved travel to Kenya once a year for the past five years. While two of four yearly meetings are conducted via teleconferencing calls, it is standard practice for another in-person meeting to be held in the United States, usually in San Diego.

Originally, USIU was part of a system that included campuses in San Diego and Nairobi.

Founded in 1969 with a charter by then-President Jomo Kenyatta, USIU in Nairobi was created as a private university with five students. Only two years of classes were offered. By 1979, course offerings and programs were expanded so that graduate degrees and a master’s degree could be offered, according to the school’s Web site.

Wallace became a USIU board member in San Diego in 1997. In 2001, the local branch merged with Alliant International University, and USIU in Nairobi became a separate, free-standing institution and she stayed on its board.

Today, the university has more than 4,000 students from countries all over the world and enjoys dual accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in the United States, as well as that of the Kenyan government. The students are all very respectful of each other’s cultures, customs and religious beliefs, Wallace says.

“We have limited its growth intentionally because we can’t expand the facility fast enough to meet the interest,” she added. “So, we could easily double in size in the next 10 years.”

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki officially opened the doors of the new library. In addition to other board members and university Chancellor Freida Brown, Ph.D., U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger attended the event.

Mattson, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau, took a more grass-roots approach in helping orphaned schoolchildren in Africa last fall.

Actually, grass doesn’t grow where she went.

Having hiked to the base camp of Nepal’s Mount Everest at a height of 17,600 feet, she earned monetary pledges for each foot above 12,600 feet.

Her “Climb for a Dime” effort, which raked in about $15,500 from members of the Western Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, was directed to its foundation, which sponsors industry education and research.

But an additional $4,000 put on the coattails of her parka by family and friends went to help orphaned schoolchildren in the African village of Arusha with some of their basic needs, including hot meals.

She’d learned of the school in which 75 children, most of them orphaned when their parents died of AIDS, from her chief guides on a trek she took up Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro in 2004.

Kudos to two who’ve beaten a path abroad to make inroads in education.

Send tourism and hospitality news to Connie Lewis via e-mail at


. She may also be reached at (858) 277-6359.


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