ENGLEWOOD — Kennedy-King College officials hoped to impress potential students with their first culinary expo Thursday.
If the experiences of Tilden Career Community Academy juniors Terry Harris and Nicole Turner were any indicator, the college succeeded.
"You can't get this at any of the places around my school," Harris said enthusiastically as he chowed down on a bacon-and-lettuce sandwich on rye bread. "Man this is good. I can't believe I ate two of these sandwiches already."
Turner, who aspires to become a registered nurse, appreciated the etiquette exercise she participated in with her classmates during the expo.
"Now I know how to properly fold table napkins," the 17-year-old jokingly said. "I suppose this will come in handy if I end up going to a fancy event like a celebrity wedding."
College officials estimated that more than 300 students from 15 public schools attended the three-hour event at the Kennedy-King, 740 W. 63rd St. About 40 students from the college's culinary school, Washburne Culinary Institute, participated in the expo, designed to expose high school students to the culinary arts.
"We certainly would love to make this an annual event. The turnout was overwhelming and the interest from students exceeded our expectations," said Loren Dinneen, director of Workforce Partnerships for Kennedy-King College. "The event also serves as a great recruitment tool for us. I am hearing a lot of students inquire about how can they enroll in Washburne when they graduate."
Washburne students cooked a variety of meals for expo attendees and led food demonstrations. Some of the items included pastries and desserts, as well as a wide variety of sandwiches.
Some Washburne students said they were drawn to the program to help achieve their professional goals.
When Jennifer Wright graduates in May, she wants to pursue hospitality management at a four-year institution.
"I plan on going to Iowa State University to get my bachelor's degree. And sometime in the future I plan on having a help center to help those that are on the street," said the 23-year-old Woodlawn resident. "It would feed the homeless and have after-school programs."
Raitwain Souch, 37, said he enrolled in Washburne to fulfill a wish by his late grandmother.
"She wanted me to follow my dreams and come to culinary school, so I did. She knew I needed a meaningful job to support my two kids and cooking is it for me," said Souch, who cooked for six years while in the Army.
More culinary schools are offering scholarships, making them more attractive to high school students.
"I've had students win scholarships to college for culinary and I am beginning to see more of it each year," said David Blackmon, program coordinator for Agricultural Education, Culinary Arts & Hospitality for CPS. "What Kennedy-King is doing is great because the sooner you expose students to a culinary career the better."
Kristopher Murray, executive director of Washburne, said not only is Kennedy-King College getting recognized locally for its culinary school, but nationally it is also gaining ground as a viable community college.
The Aspen Institute recently announced that Kennedy-King College is a contender for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The college is among 150 schools from 37 states being considered for the prize.
According to city colleges officials, Kennedy-King was selected from more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide for its demonstrated commitment to student success. Three areas were used to determine success: rate of student retention, graduation and transfer to four-year institutions; improvements over a five-year time span in outcomes and performance metrics; and equity in outcomes for students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The top 10 finalists will be announced this fall, and the winner will be announced in early 2015.