A busy mother of five children, Shannon had her heart set on going back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, attending on-campus classes wasn’t a good fit with her family’s needs — and she questioned whether this was the right time to start school. Then she survived a potentially devastating medical event. Grateful to be alive, in the moment that her doctor told her she had been gifted with a new lease on life, Shannon knew exactly what to do. She listened to her heart and enrolled in the online Baking & Pastry – Food Service Management degree program through JWU College of Professional Studies. Shannon told us, “The decision to enroll in the program has blessed my life.”
GROWING UP, COOKING AND BAKING WAS MY HOBBY
My grandmother was a phenomenal cook and baker. Visiting with her during the summers, she inspired my lifelong love of baking and pastry. She taught me everything she knew, and then back at home, I followed recipes in cookbooks she sent me for birthdays and holidays. I also read my mom’s Betty Crocker cookbooks and devoured the “Joy of Cooking” cover to cover — just for fun. I delighted in telling my grandmother all about the dishes I was cooking and the pastries I was baking.
As a senior in high school, I had a little space in my schedule for an extra elective course, so I chose a class about food and family. Thinking the class was just for fun, I unexpectedly found myself teaching the other students how to make petit fours and other pastries. My teacher, Mrs. Williamson, and I developed a special bond. She was a wonderful teacher and one of my biggest motivators. Mrs. Williamson suggested I go to school at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), so I enrolled in a Baking and Pastry Arts Associate degree program.
While in school at CIA, I did a couple of great internships at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, and then I worked at the Wine Spectator Restaurant in Napa Valley (which is unfortunately no longer in operation). After graduating from CIA, I worked at the Four Seasons Hotel, and later moved on to baking wedding cakes and preparing every variety of food for banquets.
After I got married, I took time off from the industry to have my five children. Today they range in age from 15 all the way down to 8 years old. So, I have been remarkably busy!
Throughout the years during which I was raising my children, I thought about going back to school. I held the dream of a culinary or hospitality bachelor’s degree in my heart. But all of the programs were in person and obviously — with a bunch of small children at home — on-campus programs weren’t a good fit with my family life.
I had researched Johnson & Wales in the past, so I was interested when I heard about the online bachelor’s degree programs through the College of Professional Studies. Whenever I considered actually enrolling in one of the programs, I hesitated, thinking, ‘Maybe it’s not the right time yet to go back to school. I’m so busy.’ There are always excuses.
GRACE, GRATITUDE AND A SECOND CHANCE
Then, in 2018, without any warning, I suffered a bilateral pulmonary embolism. A blood clot, probably formed in a deep vein in my leg, traveled to my lungs and blocked an artery. I was carted into an ambulance and taken to the hospital. The doctor in attendance told me, “You’re lucky to be alive; you must have a guardian angel.” Then he added, “You’ve just been granted a new lease on life.”
Even as the doctor was speaking, I thought, ‘I know exactly what I need to do. I’m going to go to Johnson & Wales. It’s important to me to earn this bachelor’s degree. I need to do this, and I’ve been gifted with this second chance.’
Enrolling in the bachelor’s program during fall 2019 has proved to be a wonderful decision. My experience in the Bakery & Pastry – Food Service Management degree program at JWU CPS has been an amazing journey that has blessed my life.
EVERYONE AT JWU CPS WANTS YOU TO SUCCEED
I was surprised to enjoy such a warm, welcoming reception at Johnson & Wales, from helpful advisors to thoughtful professors. Earlier in my culinary training, I had experienced a difficult student-teacher relationship with a traditional chef instructor. This professor had been very direct: “If you cannot get ‘that’ done, then you will not be able to do ‘this.’ You will not receive a grade for this class. You won’t be able to do your internships or complete your practical requirements.”
JWU CPS professors cultivate an informal, friendly, and helpful online environment in which to learn and grow. While I recommend completing the assignments on time to keep pace with the program, the professors are very accommodating — they don’t hold an occasional late submission against you or prevent you from either completing the classes or graduating from the program.
I have appreciated my professors’ thoughtfulness in understanding that, as adult learners, we are juggling a million balls in the air. Whenever I have needed a quick response, my professors emailed me promptly, even late at night.
Everyone at JWU — faculty, advisors, and staff — wants to see you succeed. That support means a great deal to me, because enrolling in a degree program is a big decision, and a monumental journey from beginning in the program to graduating with the degree.
REFLECTING ON PAST WORK EXPERIENCE
All of the courses I took at CIA for my Associate degree transferred to my program at JWU CPS. I’m concentrating now on the management courses for my bachelor’s degree. The baking & pastry and food service management courses have been designed to teach the technology specifically for food service management and the hospitality industry, and also to cover the nuts and bolts of owning or managing a business.
Returning to school at 41, married with a family, my life experience gives me a distinct perspective on what I am learning, compared to when I attended college right after high school. When I completed my associate degree, everyone urged me to, “Go to work and get some experience — then go back to school later.” I had a terrific opportunity to manage a pastry kitchen at a college right out of school, so I took that advice.
I’m glad I waited to go back for my bachelor’s degree. Because I’ve worked in the hospitality industry, I can relate to these courses. I’ve worked with a POS (point-of-sale) system, and I’ve dealt with disgruntled employees and unhappy customers. I’ve had to adjust to changes within organizations on many levels, especially working in the hotel industry, where everything is constantly changing.
All of my fellow classmates have been in the industry a long time, and each person brings something different to the table. My experience in the hospitality industry has helped me connect more readily my fellow students and with my professors. Being able to reflect back on my past work experiences has helped me write better papers than if I had taken the bachelor’s program directly after earning the associate degree.
ONLINE EDUCATION HAS BEEN A BETTER FIT FOR ME
I was surprised at how much I have preferred the online learning format, compared with having earned my associate degree in the classroom. Without the distractions I experienced when I sat in a classroom, where other students and a teacher were talking to me, I’ve had more time to read and absorb the class material.
The time to read, study, and think about what I am learning has been particularly helpful with the math classes. Never my favorite subject, I have struggled to learn math throughout my life. I’ve taken three math classes at JWU and am starting a fourth session this fall.
JOHNSON & WALES OPENED MY EYES TO HOW MATH APPLIES TO THE REAL WORLD
Early in the program, I took a general overview or refresher course on statistics and algebra. My first thought was, ‘How does algebra fit into the hospitality industry?’ I even asked my academic advisor Harry Ryan, Jr., ‘Why am I taking this class? I already did this a long time ago when I was in high school.’
Harry answered, “Well, it’s part of the major; the teachers have a reason, and you’ll probably learn something from it.” And he was right.
My professor put a whole different spin on algebra. We learned how algebra applies to every profession, and also to most aspects of life. I hadn’t imagined how much baking & pastry and food service management owes to algebra — for example: how you organize your staff; are you dividing time equally among different workers? And how you think about money; are you looking at the interest, in addition to the principal, for paying off a loan?
Later on, I took an algebra course, and then a statistics course, on the Pearson Online Academy platform that provides JWU CPS students with self-paced content. The Pearson platform does a wonderful job of giving all of the details needed to understand mathematical concepts and allows for practice attempts at solving problems. When I was struggling with a problem, it walked me through it step-by-step. I gained more knowledge on Pearson’s digital platform than I ever had when I learned similar math in-person in high school.
A personal benefit is that having taken these math classes has helped me support my children with their studies. I have two high schoolers who are both taking algebra; neither one likes the subject. Following the examples of my JWU professor, I’m able give the math a different spin, which is helping my children appreciate how math applies to life. If my children complain they don’t like this teacher or that class in school, I tell them that you just have to do your best to get through. The efforts that you make to work towards your goals builds character.
INTERACTIVE VIDEO ASSIGNMENTS
As I began my senior level classes this summer, I enjoyed interacting with my classmates in a course called, “Beverage Appreciation.” We conducted experiential wine tastings via videos, which was a fun alternative to having a professor say, “Read this chapter out of this textbook,” or “I’m going to give you a video blurb of myself talking about something.”
To conduct the assignment, we each purchased bottles of wine, and filmed ourselves tasting and talking about our impressions of these wines. Unlike my eight-year-old daughter, who records herself singing songs, I’m not so comfortable seeing myself on camera. While watching my classmates’ videos, I saw that everyone was nervous! However, we learned a lot from each other by listening to, and then responding to, each person’s unique experience of tasting the wines.
For a food service management technology class, we each recorded ourselves talking about our past experiences in the industry and what we were hoping to gain from the class. I enjoyed hearing about the work each of my classmates had done, what they haven’t yet done or hoped to do.
ORGANIZATION IS THE NAME OF MY GAME
As a mom, I had learned early the value of being organized. I recall a moment, when after my third baby was born, I recognized that I needed to be better organized. I had a couple of toddlers and a new baby, and I was trying to haul all this stuff out of the house to go to appointments. I called my mom and cried, saying: ‘I don’t think I can do this. I’m outnumbered!’ Fortunately, I became more practiced at organizing my life, which helps me manage being a student while raising a family of five children.
I’ve brought the skills I gained from being a mom into organizing everything I do for school. To manage assignments efficiently, I follow a plan. I designate on which days I will do specific tasks or projects. I’ll pick a set time, on a specific day, to work on school assignments. For example, from 2-5pm, I’ll get work done in between my kids getting home from school and dinnertime – and then again after they complete their homework.
I do most of my school assignments early in the morning work, and also late at night. I find that I can get a feel for a class pretty quickly, and then I can identify what kind of assignment will require more or less time. Due dates to submit class assignments at JWU have consistently been Thursdays and Sundays.
Knowing that I’ll have A, B, and C due on Thursday, and X, Y, and Z due on Sunday, helps me design a plan. I keep a calendar on which I record the name of the class and the assignments for that class. Each week, I work through the assignments according to my organizational plan. When I do work on class assignments on the weekends, my husband helps me by taking the kids out of the house.
Having consistent due dates and using a calendar or tracking spreadsheet or app helps me schedule my workflow. Planning my schedule makes it possible for me to succeed in school as a student, while maintaining my extremely busy family life.
HOW MY ADVISOR SAVED ME FROM LOSING A SEMESTER
The advisors are incredibly helpful, especially my advisor, Harry Ryan, Jr.; I would be lost without him. Living in the southwest when I began the program, I came east during early 2020 for a culinary medicine internship at Boston Children’s Hospital. Then the pandemic hit, and we were under COVID-19 lockdown orders. All of the internships were cancelled for everyone, all at the same time. I was in Boston and my husband was back in Arizona with our children. I panicked, thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh! I don’t have an internship.’
I got on the phone with Harry early the next morning and explained that because I had planned to be in an internship, I wasn’t registered for any classes. Upset about the possibility of losing a semester, I was beside myself. Harry spent all day and into the evening on the phone, talking with professors to get me into classes.
Harry’s extraordinary efforts saved me from losing that semester of school. After I began the program, Harry helped me get special accommodations from the professors. Already a couple of weeks into the school semester, I had missed some work. The professors were all wonderful; they understood my situation and were very forgiving. They gave me extensions so that I could get the work done and turn it in as I was able to.
LOOKING AHEAD TO MY MASTER’S DEGREE
In addition to advising students, Harry teaches for JWU CPS — he’s phenomenal at both. I took one of the philosophy courses he teaches. He has this magic charm about him; he can take something that seems mundane and teach it in way that it becomes exceptionally interesting.
Harry encouraged me to go on to my master’s and to consider teaching. He has continued to guide me as I begin taking courses toward the master’s degree. I eventually want to teach on the college level, so I need to complete the master’s piece of my education.
At the time I’m ready to teach, I will have completed degree programs both on campus and online. I think it would be exciting to work hands-on with the students, and possibly teach some lab classes in the baking and pastry arena. However, I would be happy to teach either in the classroom or online, and I would love to teach for JWU.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
As a mature student with experience in the workforce, I came to JWU with the understanding that, in any program, I would experience good days and not-so-great days. Some days, I had to dig a little bit deeper to stay focused on my goals.
If I’m in a class that I’m not crazy about, I remind myself that each course in the program is only seven or eight weeks. I think about why I am in school —how I’m doing this for my family, to set a good example for my children. I want to show my children that you have to work hard to get the things you want in life.
THE GOAL TO GIVE BACK
I’m grateful for all of the people who have touched my life: chef instructors at CIA; chefs I’ve worked with out in the industry; my dear Mrs. Williamson, from high school; the advisors and teachers at JWU CPS — especially my amazing advisor, Harry. The math instructors have been amazing. The writing center instructor, Kellie Nappa, has been helpful, and also the writing classes. I want to pay that forward to touch other people’s lives. I want to contribute to the world and help others by becoming a teacher.
Keeping in mind my desire to teach helps me get though a tough assignment or paper, or a challenging class. Having earned a 3.5 GPA so far, and being recognized by the National Honor Society has been very encouraging. I know that I need to do well in the class and get a good grade, so that I can graduate and move forward to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a teacher.
My gratitude for having a second chance at life, and the opportunity to earn the baking & pasty – food service management degree, is immeasurable. I’m so excited about where I’m going in my future — that excitement has pulled me through on days when balancing school and family was tough.
WHY JWU CPS
Looking back to when I began my journey at JWU CPS, I am amazed at how being a student in the program has changed me and helped me grow. It’s challenging to start an eight-week class, but it can feel overwhelming when you have kids going every direction, a household to run, and your husband is busy with his very demanding job. My personal growth in how I’ve learned to handle school and family life has given me tremendous pride in myself, which motivates me to keep going to complete the program.
I have so much joy and pride in being a student at JWU. Johnson & Wales has stood the test of time. The school has been providing education since 1914 and is exceptionally good at what they do. Established and well-known in my industry – hospitality and the culinary arts — the school has produced many celebrity chefs who are working around the world.
The online programs through the College of Professional Studies have provided the flexibility that makes it possible for me to attend school while balancing work and family. Ongoing support from staff and faculty makes me, and other students I’ve talked with, want to succeed.
If you are looking for an education that is tried and true and will give you the tools to go out and make the world a better place, I encourage you to enroll in one of the programs at Johnson & Wales. For me, the journey as a JWU student, has blessed my life. If your heart’s set on advancing your education, earning a degree from JWU CPS will bless your life, too.