Fast Facts About Tammy McCullars
Tammy McCullars is the Program Associate for the alumni travel program at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
Appalachian State University began as a teachers college in 1899, becoming a university in 1968. The school now educates about 20,000 students a year. The university’s travel program for the more than 130,000 living alumni is over 30 years old.
Education: McCullars studied information technology at Miami Dade Community College.
Employment: After working for the Broward County School System as a bookkeeper, McCullars moved to Boone, North Carolina, in 2000. She began working at Appalachian State University as the office manager before taking over the travel program.
Family: McCullars has a husband, two children, one stepson and 17 grandchildren.
Hobbies: McCullars enjoys photography and crafting.
Getting Over the Apprehension
The Tammy McCullars of 2005 might have been amazed to find out that a few years later, she would bungee jump in front of a crowd of people. In 2005, her main apprehension about group travel didn’t involve heights but rather standing in front of a crowd for her first trip leading the Appalachian State University’s alumni travel program.
“The trip was to the Italian and French rivieras, so I was excited because I had never been out of the country,” said McCullars. “But I was also a little apprehensive because I could sit and talk on the phone all day, but I always had a problem talking in front of people before this job.”
McCullars didn’t let her nerves slow her down and now talks regularly in front of people without hesitation. This helped her develop lasting friendships and take numerous adventures, such as bungee jumping on the A. J. Hacket Kawarau Bridge in New Zealand.
“I was the only one in the group who volunteered to do it,” said McCullars of her first bungee-jumping experience. “It was really cool to be volunteering to jump at 50-something years old. When I jumped, everyone in the group was cheering. On social media, I was called the best grandma ever.”
After 15 years of group travel, McCullars continues to fearlessly lead her alumni travelers to new parts of the world.
After McCullars’ husband had a heart attack in 2000, everything changed. McCullars decided to move from her birthplace in Miami to Boone, North Carolina, to separate her husband from a stressful career.
“I needed to get him away from everybody,” said McCullars. “They kept calling him. He was an electrical contractor.”
After settling into what they imagined would be a relaxing retirement for both, McCullars started to feel antsy.
“I started to work some temp jobs because I wasn’t ready to stay home 24 hours,” said McCullars. “Then a job opened up at the university that was a perfect fit for me.”
The position included bookkeeping for the travel program, which eventually pivoted into running the entire travel program. After a few years, she could host trips like a pro.
“I grew into it,” said McCullars. “Although my family traveled in the U.S. when I was younger, my background did not include travel. When you are young and live in south Florida, your vacations tend to be visiting the Florida Keys, Disney World and Busch Gardens.”
Every year since McCullars took charge, the travel program has grown and now boasts 2,500 past travelers. McCullars increased the number of trips from one or two a year to four to six. The group mixes international and U.S. tours with frequent river cruises. The alumni travel program partners frequently with Collette on tours inside and outside the U.S.
If enough people sign up for a tour, McCullars and the executive director join the tour to talk about the university, entertain and problem-solve any issues that come up.
“In the alumni world, we are ‘friendraising,’” said McCullars. “We want to get the travelers interested in our program. If someone comes and travels with us, they can learn about what the university is doing. They might come to a football game or other activity. If we find out what they are interested in, we can point them to how they can be involved in that interest, whether it is sports or music or business.”
Before each tour, McCullars hosts an orientation luncheon to share important information. Then, to ramp up enthusiasm for the tour, McCullars will send out travel gifts, a biography of each traveler and photo-sharing information so the group can enjoy the images that McCullars and other travel hosts take.
Though COVID-19 has slowed the program, with four trips canceled for 2020, McCullars has added three U.S. trips for 2021, along with a Galapagos trip in January and one to the French Riviera in February.
“The travel industry will recover,” said McCullars. “Maybe there will be new precautions, but people will travel again soon. I can’t wait.”
Feels Like Family
With 17 grandchildren, McCullars is used to loving on family. She extends that care to her travelers each trip.
“Once they sign on, I make sure they feel like family and know I care,” said McCullars. “It helps that I am a nurturer and they are mine to take care of. Collette will sometimes open the trip to the public when we haven’t filled the bus. I’ve even had those people come to me with questions and asking for help. I try to make sure everything is going smoothly.”
McCullars has worked to instill wanderlust in her family members by telling them stories about the incredible destinations she has visited. She also helps plan trips with them frequently, including an annual trip with the female family members. The group rents a house together to help bring together the family’s different generations.
Her travel enthusiasm is only exceeded by her enjoyment of connecting with people, both in her family and her travel family.
“We’ve had so many wonderful memories on these trips,” said McCullars. “To see it through the travelers’ eyes is just amazing. I love taking photos of them and then, at the end of the tour, giving them the photos to keep. I have made so many friends, it is just unbelievable. We all get so close. It is like having them a part of your family.”
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