How an Online Culinary Educator Engages Staff and Students, Builds Community, And Provides Effective Education
Interview with Tracy Lorenz, CPA, President and Chief Executive Officer, Triumph Higher Education Group/Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts
CER: What steps did Escoffier take to develop its online culinary program?
Tracy Lorenz: When Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts was founded 10 years ago, the concept of teaching culinary school online seemed absurd.
It was our founder’s innovative spirit and belief in its viability that helped the Escoffier team navigate obstacles and evolve over time.
Escoffier started by offering a non-accredited professional certificate. In 2015 Escoffier received program approval for Interactive Distance Learning from ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training). In late 2016, we received approval from the Department of Education. We are also the only accredited fully online culinary program (including an industry externship) in the United States. Escoffier now offers diplomas as well as associate degrees in both culinary arts and pastry arts. Our professional online programs now represent well over 4,000 students.
CER: What are some of the tactics Escoffier educators use to engage students as part of their culinary education?
Lorenz: Regardless of modality, the drive to help our students succeed is first and foremost for our chef educators. We have developed an online platform that leverages video, live instruction, as well a personalized individual video feedback. Not only do students have a lot of interaction with their fellow classmates, but they also have individual attention from instructors which helps ensure learning, success, and engagement. Our students also have a professional externship as a requirement for graduation. As a result of the recent challenges within the hospitality and culinary industry, we have also developed capstone coursework that fulfills externship requirements for students. Many students also choose to further their education at Escoffier, continuing in our associate degree program.
We are proud of the recognition of our innovative learning model. For example, we recently were named an “Effective Practice Award Winner for Innovate 2020” by The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) for our video feedback system to enhance skills-based education. With this feedback system, students receive recorded, individual feedback through a sharable link typically within 48 hours of submitting their assignments. This proven process has enhanced learning as well as relationships between our instructors and students. Our award was based on five primary criteria: learning effectiveness, scale, access, and faculty and student satisfaction.
Educators routinely reach out to students via phone, text, and email and even schedule one-on-one video conference sessions as needed to ensure that students have the support and resources necessary to succeed. Instructors also work in tandem with our coaching staff to mitigate any challenges students may be experiencing that are impacting their ability to succeed. Finally, educators help students partner with highly skilled tutors on video conference to provide additional assignment-specific assistance so they can continue to progress and engage in the learning process.
CER: Are your online culinary educators finding it more difficult to engage students during the COVID-19 pandemic/sheltering in place?
Lorenz: Our students are extremely engaged at this time and our student retention is very healthy. During uncertain times, the decision to go to school to enhance skills and work towards a credential is often a path new students take. We have also exposed our students to additional content in the form of webinars from outside experts to increase engagement. Finances can be an issue for some students as a result of the economic downturn and those issues can often be a distraction that impacts engagement. To help address this, we provided ingredient stipends for all of our online students in April and recently started delivering pantry items free of charge to help students get started in the program more easily.
CER: How have you engaged employees, especially as many companies are working remote as a result of COVID-19?
Lorenz: Prior to the pandemic, we already had a significant number of employees, especially within our academic team with chef instructors working across the country. However, we have increased efforts to keep employees engaged and build community. The following are a few examples of our activities.
In addition to daily Zoom check-ins, we also have town hall meetings where we update employees on the progress of our institution which includes a Q&A session.
We started a weekly Hawaiian shirt day in 2019 which has continued virtually. We developed an internal “Gossip for Success” inter-office chat channel for employees to recognize each other’s contributions. We also have Zoom sessions where employees join a video-conference session to share news and socialize, and we just launched an “Ask Us Anything” bi-weekly meeting where employees can ask the leadership team questions that are on their mind. Most of all, we are trying to remain transparent with our employees and keep our lines of communication open.
CER: What does Escoffier do to build community with their culinary students? Please provide examples.
Lorenz: Community starts from day one in orientation where students get to meet their peers and interact with a chef instructor both in discussion forums and live events. Students continue to have an opportunity to interact with each other and their chef instructors in live, virtual events and discussion forms throughout their educational experience. Because students progress through the curriculum via a pre-determined pathway, they often move through classes with many of their peers as a cohort. This affords them the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with their peers. Online students also have the opportunity to participate in various residential opportunities throughout the country as well. Last year, we developed a series of farm-to-table weekend events where online students join their online instructors and fellow students in an educational and social event. A few recent examples include a trip to an organic farm, a beef supplier, as well as a flour manufacturer and chocolatier. We have unfortunately had to delay these events due to the pandemic. Online students also partake in a joint graduation with residential students. They also can attend an annual trip to Nice, France for an educational tour of the region and visit to the Escoffier museum and foundation. In 2017, we launched the Escoffier Alumni Association which is one of the most active alumni groups I have ever seen.
CER: How does Escoffier handle the practical part of culinary training, how can it all be online?
Lorenz: Escoffier has developed and evolved its online education model incorporating traditional best practices as well as adaptations particular to our industry and students. Our model includes three distinct phases: Learn, Discuss and Experience. In the Learn Phase, students read assigned texts, watch technique videos, do additional research, and complete knowledge checks. During the Discuss Phase, students participate in discussion boards and live sessions with classmates and instructors about topics related to coursework, the industry and more.
During the Experience Phase, students join live lessons held virtually each week for a real classroom experience.
In this phase students have the opportunity to put their learning into practice with their cooking and course-related assignments. All assignments are carefully scaffolded to ensure students master techniques and gain new skills they will use throughout their career. The final class in the program is an externship where students work in a foodservice establishment overseen by an Escoffier instructor.
CER: Can you share feedback from some of your online graduates about how they felt connected to fellow students and educators?
Lorenz: Some of the strongest connections can be made when discussing and participating in learning something you love to do. Regularly we receive feedback from students and graduates that our educators connected with them personally and spent additional time to cover a technique or discuss industry events. What is truly amazing is when our students have grown so close to one another that they travel to see each other. We have had several instances of students traveling to see one another for farm events, alumni or graduation events, and cooking events. We had a student that owned her own catering company. She was supporting a marathon and needed some additional support and some of her fellow students traveled to help her with her catering event. The passion for the industry naturally connects our students, staff, and faculty together in a way that is inspiring.
CER: What advice do you have for educators switching from classroom to remote learning?
Lorenz: Online learning is much more than placing ground-based curriculums online. It is a specialized process designed to produce the same student outcomes as traditional residential programs. It is both art and science. If you stay student focused throughout the development and evolution of your program and employ industry best practices with the unique aspects of your program and student population, you will have a greater likelihood of success.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts is a leading accredited provider of online and campus-based culinary training and education. The school’s professional programs offer the proven combination of a classic and contemporary approach to modern industry skills training as well as a sustainability-centered and business-focused curriculum. Professional programs in Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts are available online and on ground through Escoffier’s Boulder, CO campus and on ground through its Austin, Texas campus. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder, Colorado is nationally accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET). Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas is nationally accredited by the Council on Occupational Education (COE). Learn more at escoffier.edu.
TRACY LORENZ is the president and chief executive officer of Triumph Higher Education Group/Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Lorenz is an energetic and solutions-driven executive with more than 20 years of leadership experience in higher education. This includes both online and campus-based operations with oversight from a variety of state and federal regulatory bodies. Her current responsibilities include making Escoffier the country’s premiere culinary arts educator as well expanding Triumph deeper within the culinary and hospitality industries with a focus on technology and innovation.
Prior to joining Escoffier, she served as the President of Western International University, a regionally accredited institution located in Phoenix. She served as the chief financial officer and chief operating officer for Western International University prior to her promotion to president. She has also held a variety of key executive roles at Career Education Corporation where she led operations, strategy, and development as well as investor relations and corporate communications. Prior to her tenure in higher education, Lorenz held positions at McDonald’s International and KPMG Peat Marwick in finance and accounting. Lorenz is a CPA and holds her Bachelor of Science Degree and Master’s in Strategic Management from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Lorenz is a mother of two and a seven-time Ironman Triathlete.
Contact Information: Tracy Lorenz, CPA // President and Chief Executive Officer // Triumph Higher Education Group/Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts // https://www.escoffier.edu/