The Oregon Hospitality Foundation (OHF), in conjunction with the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, supports a career technical education program called ProStart. This national curriculum is available to all schools in Oregon interested in growing their culinary and restaurant management programming for high school students. The Foundation is fortunate to work with many hospitality industry mentors integrated with this program. We interviewed four of these mentors who shared their stories about how they got involved with ProStart here in Oregon and continue to inspire our students to jump into the hospitality industry.
Josh Archibald, Executive Chef, Tillamook Creamery
Mentor, Seaside High School
OHF: What motivated you to get involved as a ProStart mentor?
Archibald: I was drawn to the program for a few different reasons. I actually graduated from Seaside High School in 1999. I took a simple Home Economics class, but no further food education or hospitality courses were offered at the time. I went on to continue cooking and eventually attend culinary school, but if I had the opportunity to be exposed to a program like ProStart, it would have provided better guidance in my own career path. From an operations standpoint, we were wise enough to recognize the need for skilled restaurant labor in our local community far ahead of the curve. We knew that investing in the program and its students would be not only beneficial to our own operations, but perhaps even the restaurant community in our tourism-based, beach economy. While that was absolutely part of the decision to support the program, it also goes along with the fundamentals of cooking for a living, and we’re able to provide opportunities to teach the next generation of culinarians. One of the most valuable things about the program is that even if a student decided to pursue another career path, the lessons it teaches are good life skills that are important for a life of feeding themselves, and the people they love.
OHF: What value can someone from the restaurant industry bring to the classroom?
Archibald: I think by having access to industry experts, students can see the vast opportunities available to them in our field. At their impressionable age many think of the hospitality industry as just a hotel or pizza shop. While there is nothing wrong with that, they haven’t been exposed to much beyond their local community. Access to industry experts helps them understand our industry better, and the broad career paths offered within the field of hospitality–whether that means food stylist photographer or cruise ship concierge and all of the in-betweens. As an industry, our possibilities are endless, and giving students a glimpse into that can have huge benefits.
OHF: What experience do you have of hiring ProStart students?
Archibald: We were fortunate, especially in the years of our back-to-back state championships, to have great success in not only hiring, but retaining some of our students. It was a great way for us to source colleagues that we already had a relationship with, and in turn, who already knew us and our expectations. The timing of the tourism “season” works really well for their seasonal employment, and if they returned to the program in following years those students were already showing vast improvement in knowledge and leadership skills and became even larger assets to the program. As an industry this program can be one of our greatest solutions to continued workforce struggles as it allows us to teach, inspire, and cultivate the people that will run this industry in the future.
Chef Michael Thieme
Mentor, North Eugene High School
OHF: What were you able to bring to the classroom as an industry member?
Thieme: I bring my knowledge and experience. I’ve been a mentor working with Miho (ProStart instructor) for 19 years. And even when we weren’t in the competition, we still worked with the students on development of their skills. It’s kind of like, when we're in the classroom and we're preparing for a competition, it's more than just a competition. It’s also about how you market yourself and get your resume built. I try to get the students to do their part. It's their competition and so they need to create it and they need to build it– I just guide them and tell them where I think things are good and what we need to work on. I also try to give them a reality of what the industry is like. They learn how to be a team player and understand there's ups and downs throughout our process, so we have a lot of meetings to talk about those things and how to receive feedback.
OHF: What experience do you have in hiring ProStart students?
Thieme: I’ve hired many of them. When I was the Executive Chef at the Valley River Inn, we practiced there, and a lot of those students became employees. In fact, one of them just opened a restaurant of her own, and another just graduated from the culinary school at Johnson & Wales University on the East Coast. I've sent people all over the place and I keep in touch with them. Some of them gravitated towards management, in fact, one student worked his way up to be restaurant manager at the hotel and he continues to work in the industry to this day.
OHF: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being a mentor?
Thieme: Seeing the students grow. There are so many that come in not knowing much or anything really, except they have a desire and it's initiated. I used to tell them ‘your DNA is going to change when you go through this process. And when you come out the other side, you'll be a different person.’ Some are so shy and timid, and they don't have a lot of self-esteem. To see them come out saying, ‘wow, this was a great experience and I know so much more’ really sets them up for life and beyond. ProStart is great for the restaurant industry but it’s also great for creating and helping people get into a whole bunch of different professions. ProStart has been a great vehicle to allow me and allow the students to actually achieve some huge goals in life. Not to mention, they know how to cook, and they know how to feed themselves at the end of the day. I couldn't do this without Miho, she is awesome! It really takes the two of us.
Will Leroux, Brewmaster, Public Coast Brewing
Mentor, Seaside High School
OHF: How did you get involved as a mentor for the ProStart culinary program?
Leroux: I kind of fell into it. When I first started working in Cannon Beach, I worked with Chef John Newman, who actually taught the culinary class at the high school, and he asked me to help with the class and do some mentoring and teaching with him. John helped with the team a couple of years until he opened his own restaurant, and then he asked if Josh (Archibald) and I would do it. We actually liked going in and helping out with the kids and doing extra things, so it kind of just fell into place.
OHF: How does this program help prepare students for a job in hospitality?
Leroux: Teamwork is the biggest part of it. The thing with ProStart is that the kitchen really is a team. I played sports in high school and the teamwork part of it is having each other's backs. It's achieving something together as a group. I think the cool thing about it, is a lot of these kids aren't the athletic kids. They’re the kids that may have problems at home, where life hasn't given them a good hand of cards, you know. So, for them to be able to have something to work on with other people, and to trust other people–and us as mentors–was a big deal. That was worth every bit of it. When we prepped for the competitions, we’d try to do things that didn’t seem possible. We figured out a way to make a consummate in an hour. We made marshmallows by hand with a little hand eggbeater, just to make them see that there are possibilities and a way to do things that aren't always the norm.
OHF: What are some lessons students can learn from industry mentors?
Leroux: Leadership, accountability, teamwork and just being a good human. This was one of the highlights in my life and the fact that we were able to be successful and to share that success with those kids was pretty amazing too. The company that I work for is super, super supportive of the program as well. The class at the high school didn't have a lot of funds, so my company backed it up a huge amount, helping pay for all the food. If somebody is going to be a chef mentor, they need to integrate those kids into their kitchens. This industry can teach them a trade that they can then go out and use in their immediate adult life. Where most people would have to acquire an education in a college or trade school, these kids are able to walk out of this program and have an opportunity to get hired almost anywhere in any kitchen with skills.
Andrea Loeffler, ProStart Instructor, Forest Grove High School
Former Mentor, Tualatin High School
OHF: What motivated you to originally get involved as a mentor?
Loeffler: I was asked by a coworker of mine at the time if I wanted to take her place of mentoring as she could no longer commit. I thought it would be something I would do once and then move on, but I ended up mentoring for about 12 years. I worked with Heidi McManus where she teaches at Tualatin High School. I really enjoyed the break from the busy kitchen to just slow down a bit and get to know the students and teach them new skills. It was fun to watch the students each year learn and grow and become passionate about food. The time I spent in the classroom mentoring students prepared me for my own career change to run my own culinary program at Forest Grove High School. I would say I gained more from my mentoring experience than I ever thought possible.
OHF: How valuable are mentors in helping provide real-world experiences to students?
Loeffler: Now that I have been on both sides of this (past mentor-current teacher) I see how industry mentors help the teacher and the students greatly. Industry mentors give a real glimpse into what working in the industry is really like. Just by their drive and passion for food that they bring into the classroom, they really can get a group of students excited about food and working hard for what they want in life. It is great to share another Chef’s journey to success or skills they have to share with the students. We all took different paths to get to where we are, and I think it’s important for students to hear that.
OHF: What are some ways industry members can get involved with ProStart?
Loeffler: There are many ways industry professionals can contribute to the classroom as a mentor. Guest speakers are invited to the classroom to share knowledge on their subject area of expertise. Chefs and restaurant owners donate their valuable time and space to allow kitchen tours for students. Chefs that take the time to let students job shadow or do internships are invaluable. There is really no mentoring effort too small. Our students are excited and grateful to see, hear, and experience any knowledge industry professionals have to share.
ProStart® is a nationwide career technical education (CTE) program supported by the Oregon Hospitality Foundation that involves approximately 4,000 Oregon high school students from 40 schools around the state. Mentors provide overall support for ProStart students and help students make a real-world connection to their goals and the future. Visit OregonRLA.org/prostart for more information. | Courtney Smith, Oregon Hospitality Foundation, and Lori Little, ORLA