By Savannah Upson and Melanie Schepmans
As students enter the classroom, the aroma of cooked meals wafts into their noses. Labels on every section of the room can be seen. Utensils are separated and sorted accordingly, along with other dishes and cooking ware. With every item put away and the room speck free, the culinary room is filled with students ready to cook for teacher Susie Medina.
From a childhood dream to a lifelong passion
Before taking culinary as a class in high school, Medina used to cook with her grandmother. As they prepared dishes, she found she preferred to cook rather than bake because it gave her more of an opportunity to be outside of the box with the ingredients used.
“I remember cooking with my grandma and you know, you just throw in a handful of this, you throw in, you know, a pinch of garlic,” Medina said. “I’d rather cook where I have the creative freedom to do more of what I want instead of following a recipe to the tee.”
As a child, Medina put her culinary creativeness to her advantage at a summer camp she attended.
“I remember in fifth grade I took a summer camp for cake decorating,” Medina said. “I remember it being so much fun, but it wasn’t that in depth.”
After realizing culinary is more than just mixing a few ingredients together, Medina found it was something she really enjoyed and wanted to do for more than just her high school career.
“Culinary is different than any other class because you can see a final product and you see something you made and other people get to enjoy it too and it’s like tangible, in front of you,” Medina said. “I think just having that experience and realizing this is an actual industry out there and a business in the world made me want to do it as a career”
A clear memory of Medina’s high school culinary class was making quiche. She and a few classmates were unprepared and quickly threw something together. Her culinary teacher, Mrs.Wagner, was upset and said something that still sticks with Medina, as she uses the same motto in her classes today.
“She was almost yelling at us,” Medina said. “What she said is ‘the reason I’m so upset with you guys is because I expect so much from you. If I expected any less, I would be insulting you.’ That always stuck with me.”
Medina’s profession combines both of her passions, making it a dream come true.
“They are my two biggest loves, ever since I was really small, I was cooking and teaching,” Medina said. “I am really blessed to do both.”
Journey to the U
While working towards her high school diploma, Medina dual enrolled at the community college of Pueblo, receiving her certification to counsel at an elementary school and teach pre-school.
After graduating high school at Pueblo East High, Medina went on to the Colorado State University of Pueblo to receive her elementary education degree, while she continued to work at a daycare and go to school full time.
After moving to Fort Collins, Colorado and transferring to the Colorado State University of Fort Collins, she received her bachelor’s degree in high school education. Medina started working full time as a caterer in Fort Collins, which was her first job related to culinary.
“I bounced around a lot,” Medina said. “It’s important to get a feel for what you want to do.”
Searching for the perfect place to settle, Medina taught a semester of a nutrition and culinary class in Canyon City, Colorado.
“At the school I was at before, it was a small mountain town,” Medina said. “A lot of the population was farmers and agriculture. There were, at most, half the kids on campus that there are here at University.”
Ready to leave the cows behind, Medina decided to pack her bags and move to Florida to make good use of her degree.
“After finishing the semester in Canyon city, I decided I was ready for a really big change,” Medina said. “My brother lives in Phoenix and I have family here in Florida. I just decided which one sounded more appealing, and here I am.”
Having a supportive family has helped Medina make decisions that led her to where she is now.
“My family back home in Colorado was super supportive, my family here is supportive, and my brother would have been supportive,” Medina said. “I feel like anywhere that I picked up and moved to, I’d be fine.”
Aside from Medina’s knowledge of the kitchen, students feed off of her positive energy and enthusiasm to become better cooks.
“She knows where everything is in the kitchen,” senior Cindy Lopez said. “Having a good energy around helps in general and puts us in a good mood. When we do have questions, we know we have her, and she’s always there.”
When she taught in Colorado, Medina spent a weekend with some of her freshmen and sophomores for a national culinary competition in Georgia.
“Two of my students were very near and dear to me,” Medina said. “We spent a whole weekend together. They were freshmen and sophomores back then and we still keep in contact. I have students now that are graduating. It’s awesome to see them grow up.”
Medina’s passion for teaching goes outside the classroom and the kitchen. She values the relationship with each individual student.
“I talk to my students a lot about their home lives, extracurricular activities, and what they’re passionate about,” Medina said. “My main goal is for students to understand that they’re not just a student in my class, but as a person who they’re planning on growing up to be.”