Monday, May 3, 2010

President Clinton named honorary chancellor of Laureate Universities

President Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States and founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation, has accepted the role of honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities, the global network of private universities. In this role, Clinton will advise this group of universities--which includes Kendall College of Chicago, Switzerland's Les Roches International School of Hotel Management and Australia's Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School--in areas such as social responsibility, youth leadership and increasing access to higher education. He will also encourage civic engagement and youth leadership on important social issues during his appearances at university campuses and in print and online messages to the nearly 600,000 students in the Laureate network.

"Last year I had the opportunity to visit Laureate's universities in Spain, Brazil and Peru to speak to students, faculty and the communities that they serve," said President Clinton in a statement. "These private universities exemplify the same principles of innovation and social responsibility in education that we worked to advance during my presidency and now through my foundation, and I am pleased to support their mission to expand access to higher education, particularly in the developing world."

Chatting with FENI's 2010 Postsecondary Educator of the Year Rolando Robledo

Editors' note: A portion of the following interview was featured in the "Meet FENI's Educators of the Year" article (pages 12 and 13) that appeared in the FENI wrap-up section of the Summer 2010 issue of Chef Educator Today.

Chef Rolando Robledo, assistant professor of culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I., is the 2010 Foodservice Educators Network International (FENI) Postsecondary Educator of the Year. Here, he talks with CET about some of his accomplishments at JWU in his six years as an educator there.

(l to r) FENI executive director Daniel von Rabenau presents chef Rolando Robledo with a plaque during the FENI Summit in February*

CET: Talk a little about your efforts to integrate sustainability into JWU through the Green Collaborative.
Robledo: I was one of the founders of the Green Collaborative, a student organization we started about three years ago. I got together with a few other instructors to help start it. I thought of it because I had students coming up to me with complaints about the food industry and also about the university. So my idea was to give students a platform through which they could take action. So if they want, for example better recycling at the university, more local food in the dining hall, if they want better light bulbs in the dormitories, water conservation measures in kitchens and culinary labs, through Green Collaborative they can gather a larger voice.

CET: How have you implemented new technologies into your curriculum? Why is it so important to you?
Robledo: I believe that all of our culinary students are very hands on, and a lot of times they get funneled through the educational system--elementary school through high school--and find themselves attracted to more tactile areas. And a lot of them just have that wiring that they're not comfortable sitting at a desk. I know that a lot of our students see things more visually. So if I can enhance the delivery of the education through visual means to support the curriculum, it will only facilitate the learning. So I have many layers I do. A lot of it is video, photos and sketches. I might show a video or sketch something to get the idea in their heads. Then I'll demonstrate it myself, so it's not the first time they're seeing it--they have something to base it on. So they're able to absorb it easier. Then after I demonstrate it, whether it's the next day or after, I might show another video or sketch of the same idea to cement it in their brains. And from there, it's their turn to demonstrate it themselves. So it's a very sophisticated layering of preview, demonstrate, review and then almost like a practical exam. I enrich the education with technology. I'm making it easier and more accessible to them. It's a supplement to textbook. I also use online materials, sometimes as simple as YouTube. As much as I can engage with the students I do because I find they can get more excited because they're already wired. It's as much about the education as just getting their interest.

CET: Another use of technology I heard about was that you created a Facebook page for your mentees. How does that work?
Robledo: I've sent a lot of students out into the industry, and I always tell my students, "One of the most important things you can do is develop a network." I thought a good idea would be if for example, I had a student I mentored five years ago, and I thought, "Well maybe if he's a chef and he's looking for a good cook, what if I developed a network of all of my own mentees that they can tap into themselves through Facebook?" So I invite all of them to the same group, and if they want to talk to each other and put out a job request or maybe if they're looking for a job themselves, they can ask that group first. It's sort of a contrived network. And students take advantage of it.

CET: Why do you think it's so important for people in foodservice to have mentors?
Robledo: I think it's phenomenal--super important. I didn't really have mentors per se, and that's why I'm really adamant about doing it because I didn't have one, and I feel like it would have been very different for me. I did have people that I aspired to be like in the industry, so they motivated me, but I wasn't under their wing. I was very successful in my career, but I had to figure things out on my own. Trying to navigate this industry was tremendously difficult. Every step along the way, all those decisions were made by me, which is commendable in some ways, but I look at it as it shouldn't have been that way. So I try to advise them, groom them and prepare them so when they get to the industry they're able to jump over those hurdles a little easier and they can find success.

CET: What are some of the ways you stay up to date with the foodservice industry?
Robledo: I try to stay involved in different events. I've done volunteer events. I also do stages here and there. This past fall, I staged at Alinea, just to get my hands dirty. I also went to San Francisco recently where we did a whole tour of different coffee roasters for [my vegetarian fast-food concept] Clover and also because I'm interested in it anyway. I really try to stay current. About two years ago, I did an event with chef Chris Cosentino in New York City. It was a big deal for Chris, and it was the first time I worked in New York City since I left New York City. I've been to New York many times since then, but working in the city brought back a lot of those feelings and kind of made me miss it. I realized I wanted to get back in the kitchen. It's been about two years that I've been cooking again.

CET: How did it feel to be named FENI Postsecondary Educator of the Year?
Robledo: Amazing--I was honored and humbled by the experience. I felt recognized, which is really important for me. A lot of what I do, and a lot of what I'm passionate about, is outside of the classroom. I do some things with my philosophy of teaching as well, but a lot of my advising time is outside my personal time. So sometimes I don't get recognized for that at school, but it's super important to me so I do it on my own, and it's really what satisfies me. I definitely have several students at any given time who come after class, and I'll run them through skills like knife skills. I'll push them to a level so that I can feel comfortable when I send them to a restaurant that they're going to do well. A lot of it is grooming them and preparing them on how to think, how to act and how to be professional. This year I fooled around with a molecular gastronomy club. I had a group of students come in a classroom setting. We would do a lecture about a technique, have four or five students demonstrate it themselves and then everyone in the class would go away from there with an understanding of that concept. Honestly, I do a lot of it for me. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it because I want to help. It makes me feel good, like I'm giving back. The best person that could ever tell how hard I work is the maintenance guy who closes up the building because he's there all the time, and I'm often the only one who's still there.

*Photo courtesy of Eric Futran

Chatting with FENI's 2010 Secondary Educator of the Year Ana Plana

Editor's note: A portion of the following interview was featured in the "Meet FENI's Educators of the Year" article (pages 12 and 13) that appeared in the FENI wrap-up section of the Summer 2010 issue of Chef Educator Today.

Chef Ana Plana, culinary arts teacher at Maritime and Science Technology (MAST) Academy in Key Biscayne, Fla., is the 2010 Foodservice Educators Network International (FENI) Secondary Educator of the Year. Plana has been teaching ninth through 12th graders at MAST Academy since 2007. Here, she talks with CET about some of her accomplishments and goals.

FENI executive director Daniel von Rabenau presents chef Ana Plana with a plaque during the FENI Summit in February*

CET: Tell me about your work as the school's only food production and event-planning instructor. You and your students cater most of the school's events, right?
Plana: Our school is in Key Biscayne so it's right on the water. The back of the school has a beautiful view of downtown Miami, so many people in the district like to have meetings there. The rotary club will have their annual breakfast at our school, or we'll help with senior awards night or the junior class ring ceremony. So they'll come and ask if we can do the event and my event-planning class will interview whoever is trying to coordinate the event. My students will ask, "What do you need? How many people? What's your budget?" And then my event-planning class will create a menu, staff the kitchen and front of house for the event, and based on that, they'll get a grade for their menu. I'll give them extra credit or community service hours when the events are after school at night or really early in the morning.

CET: How does the event-planning class help prepare students for their careers?
Plana: The first few classes they don't really know what to do, so I'm their mentor, I'm their guide. But soon after that, I really like them to figure it out. If something is not working, I like them to problem-solve. For example, if the coffee maker is not working, what should we do? The easiest thing is to ask Ms. Plana what to do. But then I throw it right back at them and ask, "What are our options? What can we do?" Because even if only a small percentage of the students go to culinary school, they'll all need to know leadership and problem-solving and critical thinking. That's important. These things happen all the time in catering and the food world so you have to be able to think quick on your toes.

CET: How did you get the grant from Slow Food to launch the organic garden at MAST? Why is this important to you?
Plana: That was a contact that I have as part of Les Dames d'Escoffier [International]. She is one of the founding members of Slow Food. At one of our meetings she was talking about this organic garden she was providing for a school, then I approached her and asked what I would need to do to have that for our students. And I wrote a letter requesting a grant, and we got it. Having the organic garden is great because, for example, this week we are doing fresh pasta. And [the students] went out to the garden and pulled the basil, and we made pesto. We also had carrots, fresh tomatoes, arugula and mixed greens that were ready, so we had a fresh salad. They made fresh raviolis, and they julienned the basil and did a garlic-butter sauce. It's really cool because they put the seeds in, and now they're pulling the carrots!

CET: You've worked in many different capacities within the foodservice industry. What is most gratifying about teaching culinary students? Do you keep in touch with them after they leave?
Plana: I never thought I'd be a teacher, ever. And it is just so rewarding to see them grasp different things. Sometimes we take it for granted how to cook and prepare food. It is so cool to see them learn how things work and know that I had a part in that.

One of my [former] students takes care of my younger son in after-care at his school. She asked me for a letter of recommendation when she graduated. I sent it to her, and the school hired her. Now she watches my son there! And I have her sister now in class, which is cool. This year, I have three students going into culinary arts, so it's exciting to see that they want to take that path. They've been fortunate enough to get a lot of grants and scholarships. A lot of them thought they couldn't afford to go to Johnson & Wales [University], but they're getting the support to make it happen.

CET: How did it feel to win FENI Secondary Educator of the Year? How will this award help you in your own growth and career development?
Plana: That night when they called me up to accept the award, I was in awe. I couldn't believe I was up there in front of all these people who were so talented, and I got picked. And I couldn't say anything! I have [the plaque] in my classroom to show all my students that even at my age you can keep trying to improve and make a difference.

We go to a lot of different conferences and meetings during the year, but I definitely want to keep going to the FENI Summit because this one in particular I found to be very helpful. I am still a relatively new teacher--just three years in--and I learned so much about how you can express how to do something in so many different ways. I want to make sure I keep getting funds from our school through Pell grants or Perkins because it is important that they send us every year because it is so beneficial.

CET: What's next for you? Don't you want to start doing student competitions at MAST?
Plana: This June, my portfolio is due for my permanent [teaching] certificate. After that, I will be hoping to get my master's in teaching. The rules have changed and they want you to have a master's to teach dual enrollment. And then funding is a big problem in Dade County, so I'm trying to see next year if they'll let me go back to having [Family Career and Community Leaders of America]. So hopefully next year, they'll let me put it back on and then we can start doing competitions so students can win scholarship money.

*Photo courtesy of Eric Futran