Temple University alumnus Harith Wickrema endows $100,000 scholarship to support sustainable tourism
By Christopher Vito
Harith Wickrema, a graduate of Temple University’s Fox School of Business, has contributed more than $100,000 toward the creation of the Harith Wickrema Sustainable Tourism and Hospitality Management Endowed Scholarship Fund.
The scholarship, to be awarded annually, will allow one student each year from Temple’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) to pursue an internship opportunity at Island Green Living Association (IGLA), on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), a non-profit organization that promotes responsible and sustainable living practices.
Wickrema, who headed Harith Productions, an international event management company based in Philadelphia for more than 25 years, was instrumental in the development of STHM’s Sustainable Event Management curriculum while serving as an adjunct professor at STHM. He also serves on the Fox School’s Dean’s Council. In addition to the Temple scholarship, Wickrema has invested $1 million to establish the Harith Foundation, to be used toward a variety of philanthropic endeavors primarily focused on green initiatives, education, and cancer research.
Said Dr. M. Moshe Porat, Dean of the Fox School and STHM: “The focus (of this gift) on sustainability is truly incredible. Harith is a symbol of somebody who made it and is giving back. His generous gift will produce scholarships to students who will work in this area and, in many ways, follow in his footsteps.”
“Sustainable tourism is a growing field in which Temple students can make an immediate difference in the world,” said Wickrema, who also serves as president of IGLA and is chief visionary officer of Eco Serendib Villa and Spa, an eco-luxury retreat on St. John. “The USVI’s sustainability issues, including near-capacity landfills, are heightened by millions of visitors attracted to the region each year. Tourism is the lifeblood of the region and integral to economic growth. This challenge isn’t unique to USVI, and it is vital that we focus on developing sustainable, responsible tourism while educating providers and the community at large. STHM leads the academic community in its focus on sustainable tourism education, and this scholarship will provide invaluable hands-on experience.”
Alexandra Lipp, STHM ’16, is the first recipient of the Wickrema Endowed Scholarship. She receives $4,500 to defray the costs of travel and lodging during the duration of her internship with IGLA.
While on St. John, Lipp will focus on IGLA’s efforts to “rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle,” she said. The native of Upper Dublin, Pa., first received exposure to sustainable tourism during a Summer 2016 internship with the Nantucket Yacht Club on Nantucket Island, Mass.
“Recycling everything from paper, glass, aluminum and plastic wasn’t just a law to abide by; it was their way of life,” Lipp said of Nantucket residents. “And when I saw the description for this internship with Mr. Wickrema and Island Green Living, I knew this was an opportunity I could not pass up.”
STHM alumna Neoshie Giles, who interned with IGLA during the Spring 2016 semester, identifies as a “tree-hugger from birth.” She said the exposure to St. John’s sustainability crisis “opened my eyes to a problem that isn’t going away without our intervention.”
“The work being done by Mr. Wickrema and IGLA is pressing and very hands-on; it’s not reporting to an office and working a 9-to-5 shift,” said Giles. “Global warming affects everyone on the planet, and teaching people the importance of sustainable practices like recycling and reusing resources is essential to our industry.”
STHM continues to develop curriculum and afford its students opportunities in burgeoning sectors of industry. For undergraduate students pursuing Bachelor of Science degrees in Tourism and Hospitality Management, STHM offers a Sustainable Event Management course that provides students with the tools and methods toward reducing their carbon footprints, and encourages the use eco-friendly products, services, and materials.