Student Spotlight: Brooklyn Connell, ’23 – A.A.S. in Professional Culinary Studies

Student Spotlight: Brooklyn Connell, ’23 – A.A.S. in Professional Culinary Studies

Student Spotlight: Brooklyn Connell, ’23 – A.A.S. in Professional Culinary Studies banner

Brooklyn grew up believing she should — even as early as high school — know what career she wanted to pursue. She earned a bachelor’s degree in college, and then taught English for two years in the public school system. Eventually she had to face the truth — she didn’t love teaching English. A self-proclaimed “foodie” who loves to cook, Brooklyn decided to leave teaching to work in the culinary industry. Chipotle Mexican Grill offers educational benefits through the organization’s partnership with Guild Education and Johnson & Wales College of Professional Studies. Hired by Chipotle, Brooklyn enrolled in JWU CPS’ online culinary degree program.


My first career was teaching English in the public school system. Part of my job involved working with students in the dyslexia lab. Helping children overcome learning challenges is important, but the work just didn’t feel like my calling. I was thinking about changing jobs when COVID-19 hit. I continued teaching English for another year and focused on saving money so I could make a career change.

I’m a real foodie! I love to cook and delight in trying all different foods. I wondered how I could turn my passion for cooking into a culinary career. Searching for a job with a company that would pay for me to go to culinary school, I found Chipotle. Through their partnership with Guild Education and Johnson & Wales College of Professional Studies (JWU CPS), I could earn an associate’s degree. I thought, ‘This is great! I can see if I even like working in the culinary field while attending school at the same time.’


After being hired by Chipotle and enrolling in the online culinary program offered by JWU CPS, I received supplies for completing the cooking assignments. It felt like Christmas when multiple packages of equipment arrived at my home. Inside the boxes were a bunch of knives, a giant cutting board, and pots and pans. Even after the program has ended, I continue to love using all my knives and my giant cutting board.

Passionate and Experienced Faculty

The faculty and staff at JWU CPS were incredibly supportive while I was earning the culinary degree. I’m especially thankful for my advisor, Tracie Souza. Early in the program, I had issues with the technology. I would reach out to Tracie, and she’d always be there to help me with any questions.

Each course in the program was taught by a different teacher — all of whom have years of experience in the culinary industry. My professor, Scott Smith, is just fantastic! His knowledge is phenomenal. Whenever I sent in a video, he went beyond offering critique; he gave me detailed information, which I never would have learned on my own. For example, when I was buying produce to make a dish with leeks and mussels, he taught me what to look for, to be sure I would pick the freshest, best leeks. His passion for teaching and sharing his culinary knowledge shows how much he cares about his students.

I learned so much from the feedback I received from all the instructors. I would submit videos of myself, so they could observe my culinary techniques and see the food I prepared. Instructors would then record themselves talking about the assignments I submitted.

To access their video critiques, I would log in to my class on the online platform. They would pull up a clip of something I was doing in my video. They’d say, “Look at this, look at that, see what you’re doing here.” Then they would talk about how I might do it better. They would also make little notes on the video outline I provided for them, so I would get valuable feedback in a variety of ways.


The culinary program was my first online learning experience. Online education is different compared to the classroom instruction I had when I studied for my bachelor’s degree. Instead of showing up at a scheduled time to take a class, I accessed the classes at my convenience and submitted assignments according to the schedule. Of course, I had to observe deadlines, and it was sometimes challenging to meet them.

Being an online student takes a lot of discipline. Often, I felt tired coming home after working at the restaurant. I would need to start cooking again to complete school assignments – and to record myself preparing the food. On days when I wished I could just relax after work, I had to focus on what motivated me – my love of cooking, my determination to complete the program, and my dream of having a culinary career.

Because it was challenging to balance cooking for the family with preparing food for school, we often ate for dinner the same food I cooked for my assignments. During the program, I learned to be more thoughtful about food waste. In the past, I threw food away because I didn’t know how to use it wisely. Now I value cross utilization of food – how one ingredient can be used in different ways. For example, now if I’m cooking chicken, I save the bones to make chicken stock.

Planning helped me keep pace with the demands of the program. I always tried to complete assignments a week before they were due, because you never know what might happen. If I ‘messed up’ on a recipe I would have to go back to the store, buy more ingredients and start over again to cook the dish from scratch. Or sometimes ‘life happens’ — so I would stay ahead by always following my plan.

I have a little notebook where I chart what I want to do each day for my class. And if I didn’t get to it, I could feel okay, because even though I had a huge plan for the week, I was a week ahead. I could be flexible and still accomplish my assignments on time.


For those of us who are not great with technology, sometimes filming and editing videos can take a little time to figure out. First, I had a problem with my computer. Another time, I had difficulty saving my videos after I edited them. To meet the submission deadline, I had to submit one video without editing out my husband’s antics in the background, while he was doing some goofy family stuff. When he found out the teachers saw that video, my husband never again goofed around while I was filming!

However, it’s not too complicated; I think they try to keep the video recording technology simple to help people like me who are technologically challenged.

Sometimes ingredients needed for the recipes weren’t available within a short driving distance of where I live in Harker Heights, Texas.I could have ordered those ingredients online. Instead, I emailed teachers, asking what I could use as a substitute ingredient. Through that process, I gained insight about how to adapt recipes – which is a useful skill for a cook.

Anyone thinking about enrolling needs to recognize that this isn’t an easy program; you need to be sure that this is something you really want to do. I worked hard to complete each assignment on time and grow my skills in the culinary arts. If you put in the effort, you’ll get the quality education this program offers.


I’m enthusiastic about all international food, and I especially enjoy eating and cooking Asian cuisine. So, I was really excited to give that a go during the program.

For the Capstone Project, we were assigned to create fusions of foods from two different countries. I picked China and Peru. I prepared an appetizer from Chinese cuisine. I made wontons stuffed with braised chicken for the wonton soup. To make a Chinese-Peruvian fusion salad, I infused a popular dish, Peruvian Ceviche, with lots of Chinese ingredients and elements. In place of the shrimp or fresh fish traditionally featured in Ceviche, I chose swordfish.

For the entrée, I made a Peruvian chicken that we had made for one of the assignments. I infused the marinade with Aji Amarillo paste – a pepper sauce named for its yellow color. For the side dish, I prepared vegetables — herbed carrots.


I’ve learned about the importance of cleanliness in the kitchen, and how to apply FDA food safety and sanitation principles throughout the food production cycle. To graduate from the program, I had to pass a national food safety manager certification exam that is recognized by the Conference for Food Protection (CFP). The awareness of food safety has changed how I experience dining out. Whenever I eat at a restaurant, I’m always trying to look through the doors, to see into their kitchen!

If I could go into the restaurant’s kitchen, the first thing I’d look for is how they maintain their cleanliness and sanitation. After that, I would love to see all the cooking equipment – especially big fryers or big grills or giant rice pots – that I haven’t yet used. I’d be interested to see how the restaurant prepares and pre-cooks meals in the morning and holds the food until it’s ready to be served. I’d also love to see how they store their fruit and food and learn how they keep everything fresh.


Where I live in Texas, many of the restaurants nearby serve fast food or are just small places. We have an Olive Garden, a couple of sports bars and pubs where people can watch TV while eating, and a few ethnic restaurants that offer Asian, Mexican, or Greek cuisine.

Watching the instructional videos during the program, I saw photos of restaurants that operate their own farm. A step beyond farm-to-table, these restaurants prepare food from poultry they raise and herbs and vegetables they grow. My vision for the future is finding and working for a restaurant that serves the freshest, most flavorful, and nutritious food — grown and raised right on their farm.


One of the many things I liked about the program is how much I have been able to share with my family. Fortunately, my family was interested in what I was learning during the program. Whenever I finished a cooking assignment, they would gather around to taste the food and encourage me about my cooking.

I am grateful to my family for supporting me. When I was feeling stressed out, my mom would take my son to give me time to work on school assignments. My husband always supports anything I decide to do. Even though he would come home tired from working in construction, he would help me in any way he could.


I am grateful to Chipotle and Guild Education for making it possible for me to begin a culinary career. During the program, I juggled to balance my priorities between work, school, and family. When I was promoted to manager at Chipotle, I had to put more time in to handle the increasing responsibilities. I started feeling “mom guilt” about being so busy with work and school, knowing it was taking time away from being with my three-year-old son. Feeling that I wasn’t meeting my family’s needs, I made the difficult decision to leave my job.

I appreciate that Chipotle values their employees and invests in their education. Even though I left my job, I didn’t have to pay anything back regarding my tuition; I just needed to cover the tuition for my last class. Earning my degree from JWU CPS’s culinary program was important to me; it has been well-worth paying the balance out-of-pocket.


As a kid, I believed that I should already know what I wanted to do in life — and just go do it. After high school, I spent five years in college – three of them taking music classes, then two more to earn a degree to teach English. Working as an English teacher, I realized teaching English wasn’t my passion; it was something I did, because I didn’t know what else to do. Now as an adult, I am more confident about taking time to explore new possibilities, follow my passions, and maintain a balance in my work and family life.

Cooking is so much fun for me. Completing my culinary degree at JWU has introduced me to ingredients I had never heard of before school. I’ve been able to experiment with new cooking techniques, and to cook foods — like mussels — for the first time. There is so much out there that I want to know about and experience! I’m excited to keep learning about culinary cuisine.

As I complete the program, and after spending some time with my family, I will look for my next culinary adventure. Completing the professional culinary degree through JWU College of Professional Studies has opened a lot of doors for me. I trust my new skills and knowledge will take me on a journey to where I need to be. If I am doing what I love – cooking healthy, flavorful food for people – wherever I end up will be the right place for me.

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