BUENA VISTA — Vickie Bell has held down a number of jobs — mostly along the lines of office work or customer service — since she was a teenager.
But the job she has today is by far her favorite.
Bell is currently a lab assistant for the Culinary Arts Program at the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College Rockbridge Regional Center in Buena Vista.
“I love it,” says Bell. “The students are great. I learn something new every time I step foot in the kitchen.”
Bell was a student herself, not very long ago. At age 57, with all three of her children grown and on their own, she decided to go back to school.
Although she managed to get through high school, she struggled. Bell had taken a few college classes in the past, but at the time “it wasn’t for me.”
Bell was raised in Lynchburg, and her husband, J.W., is from Madison Heights, where they lived for many years before moving to Alabama for a few years.
When he accepted a job at the Covington paper mill, they moved back to Virginia and settled in Buena Vista. This year, he also transferred to the Lynchburg paper mill. The couple has seven grandchildren.
Bell had seen a newspaper ad touting DSLCC’s Culinary Arts Program and thought she might take a class or two. After a visit with a DSLCC advisor, she found herself signed up for the whole culinary program, and even an advanced baking class, where she learned to make elaborate and intricate desserts.
“I worked harder than I ever did in high school,” she laughs. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could make good grades.”
As a non-traditional student, she had been a little concerned about being more mature than her fellow students. “I thought being in here with a bunch of young people would be a problem, but they impressed me. And they treated me like everyone else. If you open your mind, you can learn from anyone.”
Bell earned her associate degree in Culinary Arts and Management and an Advanced Baking Certificate in 2018. Although both of her parents passed away not long after she graduated, they were able to see her finish her studies.
The last semester she was at DSLCC, she was taking a couple of non-culinary academic classes, and missed the activity in the kitchen.
“I wanted to go in there so bad,” she recalled.
As chance would have it, she ran into Culinary Arts Program Head Ed McArdle (affectionately known as “Chef Ed”) at the Rockbridge Center one day, and he asked her if she’d like to help with a series of adult education, non-credit courses that he would be teaching in the evenings.
Although McArdle had not been Bell’s culinary instructor — McArdle came to DSLCC as the program head after Bell had already finished — he knew she was a hard worker. Bell readily agreed. Not long after, McArdle asked her to come on board as his assistant.
Bell plans menus, answers students’ questions and assists them with their assignments for the day. She also sets up the chef’s station and helps Chef Ed with keeping the students on task.
“I’ve learned so much from Chef Ed,” said Bell. And although Bell is happy where she is, she recognizes how many jobs are available in the culinary field. Not everyone wants to open a restaurant. And some folks just want to be better cooks and more self-confident in the kitchen.
“As adults you can still learn,” said McArdle. “You can learn new cooking techniques. You’d be surprised how many adult learners come into the program and say, ‘I never knew that!’. It really opens up your mind.”
“I hope the program lasts for years to come because I believe it has so much to offer the community and the students,” added Bell. “We need more cooks and chefs in the future.”
For more information about the program or registration information, contact Student Services at (540) 863-2820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DSLCC is a two-year public institution of higher education and one of 23 community colleges in Virginia. The college serves the diverse needs of the community and prepares individuals to experience academic, career and personal success while helping to strengthen the local community.
For more information on DSLCC, please visit the website at www.dslcc.edu.
Vickie Bell has held down a number of jobs since she was a teenager, but she says the job she holds today — as a lab assistant for the Culinary Arts Program at the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College Rockbridge Regional Center in Buena Vista — has by far been her favorite. (DSLCC Photo)