Nicole Waehner, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in tourism management last June from Southern Oregon University, was awarded the Rising Star Award at this month’s Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Portland.
The Rising Star Award recognizes an individual who is new to the tourism industry within the past five years and has shown leadership, commitment and a passion for Oregon tourism.
Waehner is currently the Sustainability and Accessibility Project Manager at Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance. Her boss, network director Emily Reed, nominated her for the Rising Star Award.
“Don’t let her calm demeanor and professionalism keep you from missing her drive and passion, which you can also see early most mornings on the river in a rowing crew,” Reed said in the nomination.
“In addition, I would say that she has single-handedly battled the red tape and complexity of our visa system to fight her way to work another year here in Oregon (with all of our digits crossed in hopes of winning the visa lottery for next year).”
Waehner, in her first three months at the gorge alliance, promoted a new, coordinated transit pass – the Gorge Pass – at numerous live events, supported the “Ready Set Gorge” campaign on social media and helped to coordinate the Waterfall Corridor Accessibility Audit, turning the findings into a visitor-facing brochure and a formal report. She spearhead the creation of the Accessible Gorge website this winter, gathering information from visitor-facing businesses so travelers with disabilities know what to expect before arriving.
SOU business professor Pavlina McGrady, Ph.D., who worked with Nicole in a few courses last academic year, recognized Waehner’s passion for tourism management.
“Nicole proved to be an outstanding student in all of (the courses),” McGrady said. “She was intelligent, ambitious, hard-working and a leader in group projects. After graduation (or even before that), Nicole was eager to find an internship and apply her knowledge and passion.
“I know that she has put her heart into the work for the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance. She joined one of my classes as a guest speaker, sharing her professional journey and the amazing work she has done for a short period with the alliance, being an inspiration for the students in the class. She truly is a rising star, and I can’t wait to see what else she will accomplish!”
The Rising Star Award was presented to three recipients as part of the Oregon Travel and Tourism Industry Achievement Awards at the Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism, at Portland’s Oregon Convention Center.
The Oregon Tourism Commission (Travel Oregon) is a semi-independent state agency with a mission to inspire travel that uplifts Oregon communities. The organization collaborates with stakeholders to align as stewards of Oregon, working to optimize economic opportunity, advance equity, and respect the ecosystems, cultures and places that make Oregon unique. The organization supports the state’s $13.8 billion tourism industry and more than 117,360 tourism-related jobs.