January 6, 2016
When Aiden Voss graduates from Traverse City Central High School in June, she’ll simultaneously be just a few credits shy of an NMC culinary degree, thanks to dual enrollment.
The 18-year-old also discovered something even more valuable than the thousands of tuition dollars she saved by dual-enrolling: the confidence to forge her own opportunities.
While dual enrollment at NMC has increased rapidly the last three years — up almost 30 percent this semester vs. spring 2015 — Voss is the first dual-enrolled student in NMC’s culinary program. (Most students take general introductory classes like English, sociology or psychology, which transfer widely.) She had to get special permission from both her high school counselor and Culinary Institute director Fred Laughlin.
“To have that experience of asking for what I want, and pursuing it, and having these people count on me for quality product and quality grades, that’s been huge,” she said.
Voss had the chops to make the ask. At 13, she walked into the Cook’s House, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Traverse City’s strong restaurant scene, and started staging, or apprenticing. From dishwashing to salads to food prep to the hot line, she learned her way around the entire kitchen.
Academically self-motivated as well, Voss tested out of several classes by the time she entered high school, leaving a gap in her schedule. Armed with her Cook’s House experience, she decided to see if she could dual enroll in the culinary program. Laughlin, who taught Voss in Introduction to Baking, called her an excellent student.
“She is inquisitive, hard-working and always has a smile on her face. She was a joy to have in class,” he said.
Voss kept pushing the bar for her internship credit this past summer, She worked at Chez Panisse, the venerable Berkeley, Calif. restaurant that pioneered the farm-to-table trend of showcasing fresh, local ingredients that has heavily influenced the Traverse City restaurant scene.
Whether it’s in the kitchen or the classroom, Voss looks for one thing.
“It’s the passion that’s important,” she said. She’s seen it outside the culinary program, too. Her Spanish instructor, Charles Fleis, can go on for half an hour on the etymology of a particular word.
“To see such passion, it just shapes you, I think,” she said. “It’s all about the people you’re around.”
Fleis said that phenomenon is circular. Voss and several other dual-enrolled students took his class in the evening, when they could have chosen other activities, and demonstrated curiosity and excitement about the subject.
“That puts fuel in my fire. They then help to motivate me,” said Fleis, who dual-enrolled himself more than 25 years ago, before it was an established practice. As a Kingsley High School senior in 1988-89 he took French at NMC. He went on to earn a PhD and teaches both Spanish and French now.
“I kind of relate to Aiden in that regard. I was impassioned about language and wanted to do something with it,” he said. “It’s not only a good thing economically for NMC, but it’s wise. It gets students motivated about higher education and what it can do for them.”
Voss’ post-high school plans are still fluid. She’d like to earn a business degree at a small, four-year liberal arts school. She wants to study abroad — Thailand and India are among her top destinations. Eventually, she’d like to return to Traverse City to finish up the culinary degree.