Michael Miller, Fort Bend Technical Education Center, Fort Bend, Texas
Culinary arts and hospitality services instructor, Michael Miller, is giving his students real commercial kitchen experience which lets them practice their culinary skills in ways that impact their community and provide opportunities to learn more. Miller pushes his students at Fort Bend Technical Education Center to put their knowledge and skills to the test every year by operating a school restaurant. Students get the chance to work directly with business and industry leaders to form relationships and give back to their local community that in turn builds a foundation for success.
“I have always wanted to work with businesses to make sure the skills and content I’m teaching is actually and directly used in the work world—both at the entry level and beyond. Professional skills are not only [important] for a successful interview; they are essential to staying employed,” says Miller about his motivation to give his students a hands-on and work experience education. Miller believes that working closely with his students helps them become more self-directed in pursuing their futures. His students’ education is never complete but seeing them apply what he offers is rewarding. “It’s one of those things that if I can give them anything, not just content… something they can apply to be half a step ahead of someone else to secure employment,” he explains.
Some of Miller’s favorite success stories are from students who have come through his classes not sure about what career they want to pursue. “When they find [their career path] in my classroom and then not only thrive in my classes but also all of their other classes…They’ve refocused themselves with greater success all around academically. This leads them to post-secondary and employment options they wouldn’t have had without taking a CTE course in the first place."
Part of this education includes engraining safety as part of their culinary practice and providing his students with credentials and certifications to give them a “leg up on employment opportunities.” But safety training is not simply about providing a credential. When asked about implementing OSHA 10-Hour safety training in his classroom, Miller explains that Fort Bend Technical Education Center places an enormous emphasis on safety in all of their career and technical education pathways. Miller believes that the OSHA credential requires concentration and focus on specific safety topics that makes the direct kitchen safety training they do for classes more advanced and effective because they already have a good background in safety.
“If a student does not pass the OSHA course, they are not allowed in the lab. There’s always one or two that don’t finish in time and don’t realize how serious we take safety until they cannot attend a lab and receive a zero,” Miller explains. He believes that if safety isn’t taught and enforced from day one, he would be setting his students up for failure and injury to themselves and others.
Once students are qualified to begin work experience education, they may participate in volunteer opportunities. Culinary students in upper level classes complete rotations at the Houston Food Bank. Last year, his students helped serve over 4,000 meals to the needy. Students work in many positions from assisting in food preparation, portioning food and plating and packaging meals. Often times, students return on their own to continue working with the food bank as volunteers.
At the technical education center, culinary students participate in a school restaurant where CTE students can stop by for breakfast or lunch and enjoy a broad range of food options from their menu including hamburgers, homemade pasta, and various desserts all made from scratch. They also offer in-house catering including recently catering a Region 4 monthly meeting and prepared a luncheon for over 50 people.
The money made from these projects completely funds additional labs and field trips outside of their school budget. The ability to make these possible is dependent upon the success of what the students can accomplish with the restaurant and catering. Miller is able to bring in chefs that focus on specific interests of the students including pastry chefs to instruct dessert labs and a saucier to work with students on their knife skills as well as instruction on creating soups and sauces from scratch. Highlights of the year are opportunities to visit and tour working restaurants and one of the culinary schools located in Houston to see what further education prospects are available after high school graduation..
Miller is not only shaping future culinary experts and leaders, but also instilling the values of community leadership and networking skills in his students.