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Meet Hillery, ICE Alum & Former Admissions Director

Continual discussion with prospective students about ICE’s career programs led her to enroll in Culinary Management.

Like any college graduate, I started my first job hunt with ideals of wanting a position that allowed me to maintain a reasonably comfortable lifestyle while also satisfying the desire to work in a field and for a company I believed in. A position that inspired me. Something that allowed me to feel I was making a positive impact on others. 

I was one of the lucky ones in that my first professional job was here at The 51. I knew as I walked down the halls of the school for that first interview that this would be where I would start my career. What I didn’t know was that this entry level job on the Admissions Support team would lead to 12 years of satisfying work and professional growth, eventually becoming the Director of Admissions at the flagship , helping thousands of students navigate the often emotionally complex waters of following their dream to work in food.

Throughout those 12 years I not only saw my own personal growth, but the incredible expansion of the school, which at the time was known as much for hobbyist cooking classes as for its three career-training programs. Now it’s become a multi-campus industry leader, educating people from around the country and across the world in five career training programs, three certificate specialty programs and countless professional development classes.

In my time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with industry leaders who come to recruit our graduates and inspire the next generation, including top-tier chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants, massive restaurant group operators, major food media personalities and many, many more. However, the most interesting and inspiring people I met along the way were the prospective students I met with in Admissions. The everyday people who dared to take that first step and be brave enough to actually pick up the phone or send an email and start the conversation of “I’m ready. I want to go to culinary school.”

So many people come to us full of fears and doubts, questioning if it’s the right time, how they’ll pay for it, what they’ll do with this education (especially if they don't see themselves working in a traditional restaurant). Knowing only that they love food, they wake up thinking about it, spend the day planning what they want to make for dinner, their preferred "shopping" is for groceries rather than for clothes, be it a checklist for something specific or the simple joys of discovering a new ingredient or condiment they’ve never heard of. Regardless of their different backgrounds and ethnicities, life stages, education and experience levels, they all have one thing in common: they love food. 
 

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Whether it’s the middle-aged woman who retired early from being an immigration attorney to find herself working in corporate private dining, thrilled, for the first time in her life, to get up and go to work. Or a former textile designer for major fashion brands who recalled pulling over on the side of the road in France to eat a picnic lunch after he scored a bottle of unique wine and couldn’t wait to open it — he eventually found himself doing food and wine pairings for an upscale country club. Or the recent college grad who completed a chemical engineering degree just to completely pivot into pastry (and was recently named Executive Pastry Chef at Le Bernardin, following in the footsteps of our own ). 

Nothing is more satisfying than meeting these people and being able to say “welcome, this building is full of people just like you.”

These are just a handful of the stories and voices I had the honor of hearing during my time as an Admissions Coordinator, and there were countless more I learned about second-hand when I moved into the Admissions Director role. Easily one of the best parts of setting foot in the Admissions office at ICE every day is hearing all the various coordinators bubbling over with enthusiasm as they describe a new potential student they just met who had a unique and wonderful backstory. So many of them starting out unsure whether or not they belong here because they think they’re too young, too old, have no industry experience ( or the ‘wrong’ kind of industry experience), don’t want to work in a restaurant (or desperately want to work in a restaurant but can’t see how they can make it work with their lifestyle) — the list goes on. And the Admissions Coordinator gets to be the one to open their eyes to the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of food careers out there that people have never considered, or never even heard of. That this is an industry that can accommodate so many voices and flavors — so long as they have the passion and the discipline to follow their dreams. 

I look forward to posting here on to share some of the stories and insights I’ve learned through my time here both as a member of the admissions team and as a student myself in the Restaurant and Culinary Management program. 

Thanks for reading along. 

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