Crawford Alumni Center

Tech Took Us There

Trailblazer Safaris owner credits Tennessee Tech education, student-athlete experience for career in travel industry 

Melisa CansadoTrailblazer Safaris owner Melisa Cansado says her Tennessee Tech world culture and business degree combined with her experience on the Tech tennis team gave her the entrepreneurial, business and networking skills to own her own business.

Originally from Argentina, Cansado, `05 world culture and business and `08 MBA, says Tech gave her the chance to play tennis – a sport she had played since she was a child – and earn an education at the same time. And Cansado says that education has been invaluable.

“Tech gave me the foundations to manage my own business,” she said. “It helped me run a business more professionally and be more organized – especially at the beginning when you are still small and can’t afford a secretary, accountant or anyone else to manage the day-to-day finances. I learned about market research, basic accounting, finance, marketing and many more tools that I could apply to my own business. At Tech, I felt the faculty genuinely cared. I wasn’t just another student trying to pass a class or another foreign student registering in the international education office.”

Cansado says Tech also allowed her to meet amazing people from all over the world, which exposed her to different cultures and ways of life, and adds that she was fortunate to do an exchange semester in Austria to finish her MBA.

“Without realizing it at the time, I was learning about networking and building relationships – a very valuable tool in my line of work,” she said.

In addition to her education, Cansado says the experience playing tennis for Tech taught her valuable life lessons outside of the classroom and allowed her to form lifelong friendships. Twenty years later, she is still in touch with many of her teammates.   

“Through Tech’s tennis team, I gained a new family,” she said. “These girls are my gemstones. We went through a lot together, overcame our differences and learned to work as a team. Being a student-athlete takes discipline. You have to juggle physical training, classes, practice, studying, homework and traveling to tournaments.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree and MBA from Tech, Cansado returned to Argentina and worked for Citi Bank, then moved to Australia and managed a hotel, bar and restaurant. That’s where she met her future Trailblazer Safaris business partner. He had been working in Africa for almost 20 years and invited Cansado to join him in Africa, become partners and open Trailblazer Safaris.

“We do custom-made safaris in Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa,” Cansado said. “I’d always worked for someone else, and I wanted to have something of my own – something I can put my personal touch on and something I can be proud of.”

Cansado admits that owning her own business has many challenges but says it’s very rewarding as well.

“I love nature, wildlife and learning about other cultures,” Cansado said. “I have traveled all over the world, but Africa broadened my mind and exposed me to so many different things that it keeps me humble. And I’m constantly learning.”

Cansado says Trailblazer Safaris never offers anything that she or her business partner haven’t experienced before.

“I always want to visit new lodges, try different activities and visit new places so that I can recommend them to our clients…or not!” she said.

Tennessee Tech’s Crawford Alumni Center has partnered with Trailblazer Safaris to offer weeklong safari trips for Tech alumni and friends in September 2023 and February 2024. Visit or contact Cansado at for more information.

“I would love to share the magic of Tanzania with Tech alumni and show them the beauty of nature, the pristine landscapes and the unique cultures of their tribes,” Cansado said. “I look forward to sharing our experiences and stories about Tech over a bonfire in the middle of the Serengeti, all while creating new memories in Africa!”