Alumnus of the Month - Kayla Walters
Kayla Walters is a three-time graduate of Memorial University. She completed her BA (Hons), BEd (Int./Secondary) and finally her MA between 2003-2010. While attending Memorial, Kayla wrote for the MUSE newspaper and was the president of the Memorial English Student Society. Since completing her MA, Kayla spent time teaching in schools along the Burin Peninsula and first-year English literature at the College of the North Atlantic. Most recently, Kayla has pursued her love of entrepreneurship, tourism and craft beer by founding St. John’s Beer Tours.
How and why did you decide to attend Memorial for your degree?
I knew I would attend Memorial since the 7th grade. I had the chance to attend provincial science fairs that were held at the old Thompson Student Centre and absolutely fell in love with the campus. I couldn’t wait to be a student there myself. I also spent the summer between 11th and 12th grade living in residence as part of the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) program, so Memorial felt like a home away from home.
What drew you to do a degree in English?
I started my arts degree at Memorial planning to complete my major in history, but after taking my first fiction course in the English department, I was hooked. I loved how the class challenged me intellectually and pushed me to prepare and immerse myself in the content.
Do any particular memories stand out from your time here as an undergraduate/graduate student?
The single most defining moment of my university career was attending the English Landscape & Literature program in Harlow. Completing a semester abroad changed my outlook on the world and left me with a yearning to travel more that would take me back to London to teach and to eventually travel around the world. I not only gained invaluable knowledge of the literature I would end up teaching to students, but gained life-long friends in the process.
If you could do any course over again, what would it be?
Other than all the courses I took while in Harlow, I’d love to take another conspiracy literature course with Dr. Christopher Lockett or a religious studies course on the Book of Revelation with Dr. Hans Rollman.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Dr. Annette Staveley once told me: “Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see printed on the front page of the newspaper.” As a businesswoman in the age of social media, I remember this almost daily. Society seems to be so keen to share everything via social media these days and we often forget that we are so vulnerable in such a public forum. This piece of advice keeps me cognizant of that.
How did you go from an MA in English to becoming an entrepreneur and launching St. John’s Beer Tours?
It all really started with the travel experience I had in Harlow, but after I finished my MA at Memorial, I went to London to teach English literature at inner-city schools. On our semester breaks, I had a few fellow Canadian friends who would go on ‘beercations’ to new cities and new breweries and I tagged along a few times. Eventually, I went on a solo backpacking trip and kept up the tradition and branched out to exploring and new cities by taking in beer tours of the area.
What was your biggest challenge in getting your business up and running?
The biggest challenge I faced in establishing St. John’s Beer Tours was that I was creating a brand new experience that most people were unfamiliar with; very few people understood what a beer tour actually was. While beer tours are very popular in other major cities throughout the world, the craft beer scene here was and still is growing in Newfoundland and the process of getting support from various agencies for a business such as this was quite daunting when there wasn’t a precedent. Luckily the brewing community was very welcoming and supportive, which helped give me the motivation to persevere.
What’s a typical day like for you during the tourist season?
Normally my day is split between administration work in the mornings and guiding tours in the afternoons and evenings. For the first season, I ran the business single-handedly, so I was responsible for everything from bookkeeping to graphic design. When I wasn’t behind the computer, I would lead tours and meet with established and up-and-coming breweries to build relationships and help promote the craft beer industry here in the province.
What do you do in the off season?
In the off-season, I switch back to full-time work on my web and graphic design business, Mosaic Creative. My design skills were very handy in getting St. John’s Beer Tours off the ground and I specialize in creating beautiful branding and website for fellow tourism operators and entrepreneurs. I also try to travel as much as possible and learn more about the craft beer world!
How did your arts degree prepare you for life as an entrepreneur?
While you might not expect it, my MA in English endowed me with important business skills that I use daily. Throughout my degrees, I learned how to think and evaluate critically. I developed my own voice and learned how to communicate effectively through a variety of mediums. But most importantly, I’m so thankful to have been immersed in an environment that helped foster and celebrate my creativity; it’s because of my arts degree that I had the tools to think outside of the box and see value in my entrepreneurial goals.
What in your opinion is something the province of NL can do right now to improve the situation for young entrepreneurs?
I’d love to see the province become more receptive to the new and innovative ideas that young entrepreneurs are developing. Increased funding opportunities for entrepreneurs in non-traditional fields would also be a step in the right direction. I’d also love to see a more formal mentorship program for young entrepreneurs!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope to be working with St. John’s Beer Tours full time by then! Right now, I run the business seasonally and run my design company in the off-season. Within the next five years there will be more new breweries and opportunities within the craft beer industry, so I’d love to be a part of the tourism community year round.
What do you say to those who question the value of an arts degree?
Students who graduate with an arts degree are some of the most well-rounded people I’ve ever met. Completing an arts degree endows you with such a wealth of skills that make us versatile and ready to accept the challenges of any job.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
People are usually really surprised to hear that I’m an Instagram influencer. I started @kaylaadriannatravels a couple years ago to share my travel photography and I’ve gained over 62K followers! I’ve also founded FemmpreneurYYT, an online space that provides a safe and welcoming environment to female entrepreneurs in our province where they can share business knowledge and support to current and aspiring women entrepreneurs.
What advice would you give a student who is unsure of what to study?
It’s perfectly okay not to have a plan. Use your first year to learn everything you can about areas of study you have no experience in and you might discover a subject you’re completely passionate about. Learn a different language, study Greek mythology, or take a theatre class. Follow your own path!
What’s your favourite place to visit?
My favourite place in the world is London, England. It might be one of the biggest cities in the world, but I feel at home every time I visit.
What are you reading and listening to these days?
I’m currently reading East Coast Crafted, a brand new book that explores the craft beer industry here in Atlantic Canada! I’m also devouring the 99% Invisible podcast every chance I get. It focuses on the ‘invisible’ design and architecture in our world that shapes the way we live.
What are you most looking forward to within the next year?
I’m excited to see how St. John’s Beer Tours will grow and evolve as new breweries open up across the province. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to meet new people, promote the industry and taste new and exciting Newfoundland made craft beer!