Julie Ivan has been a culinary arts teacher for 30 years. When she was introduced to ProStart about 15 years ago, she advocated for the program because she wanted the best education out there for her students. Ivan went full force right from the beginning, incorporating student competitions and Certificate of Achievement testing. And, she saw a huge benefit for the students.
“When I first started using the program back in the 80s, culinary was looked down upon a bit, now I tell students to respect the jacket,” she says. “If you put hard work and your heart and soul into it then that’s what you’ll get out of it,” she tells her students.
The program at Saginaw Career Complex, in Saginaw, Michigan, where Ivan teaches, incorporates classroom learning with experience in an on-campus restaurant, preparing banquet dinners and participating in cooking competitions and demos.
“We’re moving our on-campus restaurant, The Apprentice, towards more of a fine-dining establishment,” she says. “And we’re focusing a lot more on getting students proficient in as many skills as possible by the time they graduate.”
Year-end projects for ProStart students at Saginaw Career Complex involve presenting a restaurant concept or preparing a three-course meal, in front of parents, peers and teachers. “All of their materials go into a portfolio that puts them miles ahead in college applications,” Ivan says. “These young people don’t need all the fancy equipment; they just need the right foundations.”
Ivan describes her students as anyone from valedictorian of their class to some who are struggling academically in a big way. “Students are exposed to so many possible careers within the industry; everyone ends up finding their niche.”
For one student, as one of 13 kids, college wasn’t an option before ProStart, and she wasn’t even sure she would graduate high school. Ivan says that this student recently visited current ProStart students while on school break from The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), in Hyde Park, New York. The ProStart alumna said to them, “I chose education.” And, “If you work hard anything is possible.”
Another student, her parents a lawyer and businessman, was not initially supported by her family when she decided to study culinary. She now studies baking at the CIA and her mom has franchised a Tropical Smoothie in their neighborhood. ProStart not only changed the student’s life, but that of her entire family.
Another, only 20 years old, is finishing his master’s degree at Johnson & Wales University.
Another student recently came back to the Saginaw Career Center to tell current students that ProStart “saved his life and put him on the right path.” He’s now in college studying culinary arts.
Ivan’s students have attended the CIA, CIM Baker College, Johnson & Wales University and local community colleges in the area, and have been employed at many local restaurants including Chili’s, Uno’s, Legal Sea Foods, Famous Dave’s and Tropical Smoothie.
Ivan has seen countless times the impact that ProStart can have on students, and also praises the program for the scholarships it offers for post-secondary education. “Without the scholarships some of them wouldn’t be able to go to college,” she says. “They are very thankful for everything ProStart gives them.”