Think Tank

Nov 27, 2020, 23:39
Building a Rite of Passage into a New Educational Model

Building a Rite of Passage into a New Educational Model

02 November 2020

Education is more than a set of objectives. It is a significant time in a person’s life where the experience becomes as important as the building of skills.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

Culinary education’s new reality currently involves – and likely will continue - a significant percentage of online learning. Whether fully online or hybrid with shorter residencies, the model will change peoples’ lives in ways beyond curriculum content. Educators are adjusting to change that was expedited by the Coronavirus and they will likely develop ways of enhancing the excellence of offerings. The measurement of outcomes will evolve, and as is the case with the introduction of most technologies, success will result.

We struggle with seeking out unique opportunities that expand the reach of programs, reduce the cost to students, and create a much more accommodating, user-friendly delivery. Has anyone has given thought to what is lost? Of course, some will say that online or reduced person-to-person contact will detract from the educational experience, but time will tell if technology fills that gap. What we seem to push aside is the rite of passage a more traditional, in-person education has provided for many decades.

I have been giving this a significant amount of thought brought on by recent conversations with former students and colleagues. I treasure these relationships built over many years with numerous classes of eager students looking at the importance of freedom and relationship building. This brings up the question, “What is the value of a residential college education?”

Of course, there is the accumulation of knowledge, skill development, and becoming aware of one’s potential. Yes, there is the development of one’s mind and commitment to core beliefs and personal stakes in the ground. A formal education that is all consuming should, and likely will, result in loads of achievement skills. But, what about the “rite of passage?” Allow me to point to a few examples that are representative of a non-scientific observation:

Jamie and Melissa enrolled in programs at a college in northern New York. They had different paths in mind but developed a personal bond in the process. This college was where they met and made a connection that would last a lifetime. They married, raised four children, opened a restaurant and catering business to national acclaim, embraced culinary competitions that saw Jamie join the U.S. Culinary Team, and continued to support each other’s personal and professional growth. This would have never occurred had it not been for that residential education.

Mark and Vicky experienced a similar life changing period of time when they met in college, built a strong relationship, studied in France, worked in the demanding restaurant industry, married and raised a family and eventually wound up both teaching in secondary culinary programs. This would have never occurred without a residential college experience.

Tyler Scott and Scott Schuyler enrolled in a culinary arts program where they became instant friends. They shared many experiences together during their educational tenure and at graduation both enrolled in the Greenbrier’s Apprenticeship Program. Their careers took them in different directions, but they always stayed close. In recent years they combined their friendship and skills and formed Scott Brothers New American Meat Company where their skills in butchery and bar-b-que have set them on an entrepreneurial path. This never would have occurred without the residential college experience they shared.

Ryan and Allyson enrolled in college and met on that first day of orientation. It was obvious they would hit it off and after completing their degrees they married and eventually wound up working together in a noteworthy farm-to-table restaurant in Vermont. They are raising a family of beautiful children and Ryan has moved into secondary culinary education. Would they have ever met without that residential college experience?

Over a period of 30 years in education, I witnessed more than 120 students complete an internship at a Michelin restaurant in France. We placed hundreds of students in an externship that fit their needs with the help of exceptional faculty and because we worked with these students and knew their strengths and weaknesses. We brought dozens of student culinary teams together to compete in events on the east coast and hugged them as they walked across the stage to receive their degrees. All of this was possible because of a residential college experience and that rite of passage.

How many stories like this can you recall? Without a doubt there will be many that come to mind because a residential college’s obvious intent is to prepare an individual for a career. It is also a place where that same individual is prepared for life, where his or her path may very well be set, where lifelong friendships are made, and some even resulting in personal or professional partnerships. This is the rite of passage – the underlying value to the college experience.

There are dozens if not hundreds of professional and personal relationships built because of the person-to-person environment college offers. Teachers and administrators help guide students with their careers and try to set them on a course of success and personal happiness. This bond will quite often carry on well past the time when they receive a degree.

My greatest sense of professional satisfaction comes from phone calls from an alumnus, or a chance to work with them as they move toward entrepreneurship. It is incredibly fulfilling walking into a graduate’s restaurant and see and feel what he or she has accomplished. It’s all about having an alumnus call to let you know he or she just brought a child into the world, attending a wedding of two who met in college, meeting at a conference or workshop and sharing ideas as peers, or making a job recommendation that pushes a graduate’s career in a new direction. Little of this would happen if it were not for that residential, person-to-person education.

Let us not forget what might be lost unless we build the “rite of passage” into the formula as we continue to embrace the challenges and excitement of a new educational model. Education is more than a process, more than a set of objectives to be met, and much more than the exchange of funds for the right to pass or fail; education is a significant time in a person’s life where magic can happen, where their lives are changed, and where the experience becomes as important as the building of skills.

Time to reflect.


Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..