Chef Educator, Cedar Hill High School

"DCCCD changed my life and belief in myself. I learned so much about striving for a college education and career, and pushing through in spite of my family history. I was raised in a single-parent home after the age of eight; my mother didn't have a college education and was raising two children on a teacher's aide's salary.

"When I graduated high school in 1999, I was offered a Rising Star scholarship because my grades had opened this door for me. I accepted this challenge with very little support and was honored to get a full scholarship but had no idea what direction to go.

"I initially took basic classes at Eastfield College but had to take a break in my education when I had my first child. I returned for a short time during the summer after I had my daughter. But the responsibilities of becoming a single parent forced me to focus on working. In 2013, I realized after working in many customer service-driven positions and catering small events that it was time to expand my knowledge in the field I love the most: culinary arts.

"After remarrying and now having three children, I returned to college classes – this time at El Centro, since it was the only school in the DCCCD that offered a culinary program. I was terrified, as I hadn't been in school for years, was older and didn't know the flow of college life. Forming relationships with the staff was my greatest experience — Chorion Miller in the Adult Resource Center* (ARC) was a lifesaver. The ARC team was the safety net that kept me grounded when I felt like giving up and connected me with resources to be strong in the workforce.

"The real-world knowledge that I gained at El Centro kept me standing out above other candidates at job interviews. I learned to open my eyes to the different facets of the food and hospitality industry in its entirety. I frequently recommend people who have a passion about this industry to take classes at El Centro, where they have many options of degrees and certificates.

"This degree opened the door to job offers at several schools and one offer to go to Australia. I chose to accept my current position because it allows me to spread knowledge to all the young adults who come through my program. My goal is to educate, inspire and expose young adults to the benefits and truths about the culinary industry. I love my job.

"The best way to succeed in this industry is to know your strengths and don't let anything stop you from moving forward. During my practicum, (Food and Hospitality Service Team Leader) Swee Goh introduced me to a restaurant manager who hired me on the spot and later promoted me to manager the month after I graduated. Having the credentials to support my passion has been the greatest accomplishment that I have achieved. Thanks to El Centro and the entire team!"

Chef Rasheeda Gillis earned an associate degree in Culinary Arts and certificates in Basic Culinary Skills, Certified Food and Hospitality Manager, and Food and Hospitality Service, from El Centro College. She was awarded a Rising Star scholarship, available to graduates of Dallas County high schools who have at least a B average and who can demonstrate financial need.

Rasheeda also received scholarships from the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association and from El Centro College. She was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for students of two-year colleges and received recognition from the college's Adult Resource Center as an outstanding student, as well as an education achievement award from Pastor Rickie G. Rush of the Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas.

She has catered events for local religious leaders and politicians, including Texas U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, and for the wife of a retired Dallas Cowboy NFL star. The first chef to be hired as a chef educator at Cedar Hill High School, she is working toward a bachelor's degree in alternative medicine.

* El Centro College's Adult Resource Center offers support services for entering or re-entering the workforce to financially challenged students who are single parents.