Elgin Community College: A Visit & OverviewAdviser | Thursday, December 16th, 2010 | No Comments »
I travelled from the North side of Chicago, to Union Station, to a Pace Bus terminal, to the campus. It took me 3 hours. It was a long commute but a necessary one. Elgin Community College is a place I was well aware of as they were a program I often competed against when I represented a couple of different culinary arts programs in Chicago. Prospective students would tell me about it but I brushed it off as naivety. I had a program to sell after all. My interest in ECC resurfaced after speaking to alumni Amanda Downing. Her story was one that needed to be told because it showed that one could be successful attending a community college program. From her experience and praise, I wanted to explore and find out further what they were doing and whether or not my brushing off of opinions was my naivety.
Walking into Elgin Community College, I found myself greeted by a set of modern buildings, many still under construction, and inside awaited a top-notch facility that could easily rival or trump the state college that I attended.
After wandering around campus to get a feel for the environment, I entered the culinary arts department and was greeted by Adrianna Costello, Assistant to Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program Coordinator. She proceeded to showcase the 20,689 square foot facility which features:
- 2 Baking & Pastry Labs
- 2 Culinary Arts Labs
- The Spartan Terrace (open for lunch and dinner – Please call for hours of operation)
The student body consists of just over 450 active students but classes remain small and manageable. ECC offers 3 degree programs in Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts and 8 certificate programs for a variety of students such as:
- AAS Culinary Management – Culinary Arts
- AAS Pastry Arts
- Vocational Specialist in Pastry Chef Assistant (Certificate)
In the baking and pastry labs, there are generally 2 students per station but small student to teacher ratio of 16 to 1. The culinary arts labs are similar in design with 2 students permitted at each of the 10 stations. All kitchens have smart classrooms. Lecture takes place at the same place where the student’s cook via monitor.
Although the facility was updated in 2004, it maintains its modernity by utilizing technology and arranging classes to provide the students with a hands-on and real time cooking and baking environment. Students have access to product and equipment but they also benefit from opportunities that exist outside of the classroom.
In the student’s fourth semester, they work in the Spartan Terrace, the onsite restaurant. It is open Monday and Wednesday evening to the public for dinner.
Guest chefs also give the student’s a chance to showcase their skills under a little more pressure. Recently, the students worked with the staff of Isacco Kitchen of St. Charles. The menu consisted of items like roasted beet salad with aged ricotta salada, crispy pancetta and braised short rib roulade, sweet broccoli, parmesan emulsion.
Students also cook and assist with menu selections for the Annual Gourmet Dinner. The following menu was for the 2010 dinner:
Gourmet Dinner 2010
Chilled White Gazpacho Soup
Wild Mushroom Ravioli
Veal Loin & Lobster Brulee-Bosanac
Pickled Watermelon with Cucumber
Dark Chocolate and Macadamia Mousse Bombe
While students can hone their culinary and hospitality skills on campus, they can also visit the BLT Hotel Faschule Semmering in Austria to participate in culinary competitions, work side-by-side with the BLT Hotelfaschule students, along with visiting regional restaurants and production factories over the course of seven days. The partnership has lasted for 20 years so if you should want to venture internationally (and I would highly recommend that in general), one is not confined to studying in state.
An externship is required at ECC which is not required at all community colleges. Students are to complete a minimum of 400 work hours. With Chicago only a short drive away, students can find opportunities in Chicago or they could stay locally working in area foodservice establishments in Elgin, Batavia, St. Charles, Rockford, etc.
After finishing their Associates Degree, students could transfer those credits to Lexington College for a BA in Hospitality Management as well as Robert Morris University and Northern Illinois University.
Not only does ECC provide a quality education, they do so at a fraction of the cost of many proprietary programs. If you are in district, it is only $91 per credit hour. Students from Rockford and McHenry County also qualify for this rate as their community colleges do not offer this program.
Other ways to reduce cost are through the various ECC foundations only available to current or incoming students such as the Beresford Scholarship, Mike Zema scholarship, Trustee Scholarship, and Paul Simon Essay scholarship (eligible to all ECC students).
Does all of this matter if students cannot find employment in the field? In my opinion, it does not. However, Elgin Community College has graduates working at hotels like the Marriott and teaching at local culinary institutions like Washburne and Dupage Community College. Amanda Downing is the Chef de Cuisine at Rockit Bar and Grill while Jeff Vergan is a research and development chef at Unilever.
While visiting Elgin CC, I had the chance to meet a few students. One decided to attend the program after visiting a few well-known programs in Chicago and found that the classes and facilities offered were just as good, if not better, and at a fraction of the cost. Another student I met with had been attending for years. She had started before the major upgrade in 2004 and had enjoyed the program before but was clearly a big fan of the upgrades to the kitchens and overall space. When determining whether or not a program is quality, one often just needs to look at the faces of the students. You cannot put a price on happiness and a sense of community.