Saturday, June 22, 2013

The CIA -- Different From Most Colleges and Universities

By CIA Student Blogger Amy Zarichnak

The Culinary Institute of America is not set up like other colleges and universities.  We do have semesters, but within those semesters are “blocks,” which are three week increments that classes can be split up into.  Not all of them are, but this is the measure of time that we refer to here.  As a new student, you will not immediately experience the block system, but it is the pulse that beats underneath the structure of the college.

For instance, as a new student, you will take a 15 week Culinary Fundamentals class.  Within that 15 week period, you will have two six-week periods that classes will be split up into.  You will take a 6 week Food Safety class, as well as culinary math.  Then you will take Gastronomy and nutrition the second six weeks. 

Then you go into a 3-week meat class that segues into a 3-week fish class.  During that six-week period, you will also take a management class and a writing class.  The management class is a six week class, but the writing class goes longer.  After the meat and fish classes, you go into a production kitchen.  “Production kitchen” means that you are cooking to feed other students in the school.  We don’t have a cafeteria like regular colleges.  We have “production kitchens,” which are classes, and you have homework and quizzes and a final.  But in those production kitchens, you will cook food for the student population and serve it to them.  That's how the students eat here -- it is all made by students for students.

It’s hectic.  It’s stressful.  It’s a lot of work.  But it is also very satisfying, and the sense of accomplishment is huge.  When you do something wrong, you don’t forget it, which aids in the learning process.  But when you do something right, your heart soars.  There is a mixture of doubt and self-confidence during this time that I wouldn’t trade for the world.  The fact is, that self-doubt makes you dig deep and work hard, and that confidence gained after you’ve accomplished something you weren’t sure you could carries you through those doubtful times.  The thing to remember is that this is a learning environment.  Ultimately, there is no right or wrong.  There’s only learning.  As long as you’re learning, you’re moving forward, becoming a stronger performer, and moving towards your goal of becoming a chef.

There is an externship requirement here, as well.  At the end of your second semester, you will leave school for four months and go to the externship of your choosing.  The choices are vast and impressive.  We have multiple career fairs at the school where some of the best restaurants in the world set up a booth to recruit YOU.  It is truly amazing.  Eleven Madison Park from NYC, Public from Chicago, and Jose Andres’ restaurant group are some amazing restaurants that are regularly represented at the career fairs.  You can go to Disney.  The sky is the limit at the Culinary Institute of America.  These restaurants are interested in the students here because they know what students are taught here.  CIA students are in demand in the culinary industry.  This school opens so many doors for its students.

I’m a Penn State graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in communications ('93).  I actually started my college career at the University of Pittsburgh, and also did a semester abroad at the University of Manchester.   I am so impressed by the Culinary Institute of America.  Because I have been to many schools, I am qualified to say that I have NEVER seen a school assist its students in the ways that the CIA does.  Chef instructors are so invested in their students and will do anything to help them succeed.  There are so many programs here to help students.  The tutoring center.  The writing center.  Psychological counseling is free.  There are some amazing clubs.  There are cooking competitions and events.  We have the most amazing guest speakers.  Paul Bocuse.  Thomas Keller.  Grant Achatz. The list goes on.

Come join us.  I know so many people here who absolutely love this school.  I am one of them!  

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