A first-year college reflection by Gianna Am (Cohort 15)
I first learned about the word “college” when I was recommended to Rainier Scholars (RS) by my 5th grade teacher. My family and I had no idea what Rainier Scholars was until we started applying and talking to people who went through RS and helped operate the show. I was already academically advanced for a kid my age, but I had no idea it would lead to me going to practically my dream school. I was in RS for seven years and those seven years went by fast because before I knew it, I was about to be a senior in high school and I didn’t know where I wanted to go or do in college. I knew I wanted a school that was outside of where I grew up, because I spent all my life in Washington and couldn’t travel as far as I had wanted. I didn’t know if my family could afford out of state or I would make the “right” choice when it came to location and a major.
As it came closer to applying to actual colleges, I realized I have a passion for baking but I didn’t consider a culinary/baking school because I wasn’t interested in a two-year program. When I was researching baking schools, I came across Johnson and Wales University (JWU) in Providence, Rhode Island. That’s far, I know, but as I read more into the school, I started to fall in love with it. Not only was it a top-rated school for baking and culinary, but they offered so many majors that were outside of the kitchen. That was something that caught my eye because I loved the diversity in majors and I felt like it added to the different experiences you have in college. I brought up JWU to my Rainier Scholars advisor and they loved that I found a college that felt right to me. They encouraged me to apply to some local schools and keep exploring, but I hoped and prayed that I would go to JWU.
I applied to the early action program to increase my chances of getting accepted. I practically cried and texted all my loved ones that the first school to accept me was the one I wanted so bad. Now, I had to tackle the challenges of affording an out-of-state private school and what to really expect. My family and I are so grateful to have had Rainier Scholars by our side, helping us with big and small questions. Like many other scholars in the program, neither of my parents went to college and my older brothers were attending local community colleges; so this was a whole new process. We were relieved with how much help we got from Rainier Scholars. There was a lot of back and forth, constantly communicating and making sure we got everything done. Rainier Scholars also prepared me to speak up to JWU when we had concerns. For example, they wanted students to come to the school twice during the summer; once for mandatory orientation and once for move-in day. My family couldn’t afford to fly out to the east coast multiple times, but I was able to work with JWU to allow me to move in early and attend orientation after I arrived.
In the fall, I was about to start my journey of being on the east coast, at my dream college, all by myself with my family thousands of miles away and in a different time zone. It wasn’t easy at first. I sent so many texts and called so many family members to make me feel less alone. But, eventually, I found my footing. I met three amazing girls from orientation, whom I still hang out with and talk to, and I feel like I outgrew my shy shell. Everyone in college is in the same boat; they’re here to do what they love and most of my classmates also came with zero connections. It really took a personal push and positive mindset to help me get to a comfortable spot. When I started college, it felt like a fresh start in a better environment; one that I chose and one that fit my wants and needs. So far, I have attended a club fair with my orientation friends and I got to meet so many new people and learn about the unique clubs JWU offered. They have many clubs catered to food: Cooking Asian, Latin Food Club, Wildcat Food Rescue where they basically up-cycle food that would’ve gone to waste, and they even have a pie club where students share their love for different kinds of pies. I ended up joining the Pastry Arts Club to express my love for baking outside of class and the Bee-Keeping club, because bees are amazing creatures and so important for the environment!
When people in my life hear about me going to baking school, they fear intense and long days in the kitchen where I’m getting yelled at by an angry chef; like in the movies and TV shows. That’s only half true! My days are long and sometimes intense, but every chef shows how much they care for each student’s learning. They want us to be successful and achieve whatever our dreams may be. There’s only one chef between about twenty students, so yes it gets intense, but at the end of the day, everyone is learning new techniques and expressing their love for baking. There are days where I’m so exhausted and don’t even want to do homework, but almost every day, I get to pursue my passion. My products are never 100% perfect to my chefs or even me. However, I’ve come to learn that the whole point of me choosing a baking school was to learn how to have control of my end products and how to improve as a baking and pastry chef. JWU is definitely where I want to be and I come to class everyday willing to learn something new, and hopefully not burn something in the oven!