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Chef Polfelt awarded Endowed Teaching Chair

The Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation has awarded the Donald G. Smith Endowed Teaching Chair to Ted Polfelt, an award-winning local chef and instructor in the Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program.

The Donald G. Smith Endowed Teaching Chair is intended to honor an outstanding Virginia Western instructor who advances the understanding of business management principles in his or her coursework, regardless of academic discipline. The honored teacher may use the funds to enhance the quality of his or her curriculum, facilities or instruction in any way he or she deems necessary.

Polfelt plans to host a culinary competition and educational seminar at Virginia Western that will give students the opportunity to compete in a professional-level “culinary salon” without the cost of travel. The competition would be open to students and culinary professionals alike, and draw on judges sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation (ACF).

The endowed chair is named for the late Don Smith, who led Roanoke Electric Steel and was a Director Emeriti of the Educational Foundation. Steel Dynamics Inc., formerly Roanoke Electric Steel, established the endowed chair in 2006 with a $100,000 gift to honor Smith’s longtime leadership. Smith was president of Roanoke Steel from 1985 to 2004 and worked for the company 49 years.

Polfelt said instructors in the Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program “literally apply business management principles into everything we do. We talk about utilizing every piece of animal or vegetable to maximize profits, as well as how to maintain your professional appearance to separate yourself in the job market.”

Acquiring business management skills early in a hospitality industry career is critical, Polfelt said. Too often, talented culinary students don’t understand the importance of maintaining core costs such as labor, food and rental. He offers, as an example, the idea of opening a coffee shop. “It sounds like a great business plan: Cheap to produce, low labor costs and great cost margins. But how many cups do you have to sell to cover your $2,000 lease and the rest of the expenditures?

“I like seeing the ‘A-ha’ moment in our students, when the picture of entrepreneurship becomes a little bit clearer,” he said.

The Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program is housed in newly expanded space at the Claude Moore Educational Complex, which is part of the Roanoke Higher Education Center in the historic Gainsboro neighborhood. The program currently enrolls 308 students who are pursuing an Associate of Applied Science degree. Polfelt has been an instructor in the program since 2012.

“Ted’s project proposal is a creative and interactive way to marry our student’s culinary college tutelage with real-world experience and skills,” said Yvonne Campbell, Dean of Virginia Western’s School of Business, Technology & Trades. “He has smartly structured the project event agenda so that the experience increases student exposure to business principles employed in culinary arts at a level experienced by few.

“Seeing firsthand practical application of entrepreneurship by talented, dedicated experts is an important career and life lesson, and, honestly, can be life-changing for many of our students.”

Polfelt’s endowed chair appointment spans the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. He is the third recipient of the Donald G. Smith Endowed Teaching Chair, following Alexander Scott, an associate professor of Spanish, and Cristin Barrett, an assistant professor of mathematics.

Polfelt previously was named the 2016 ACF Southeast Region Chef of the Year and was a semi-finalist for National Chef of the Year. He has also won more than 20 medals competing in ACF-sanctioned competitions across the country. He is currently the Vice President of the Southwest Virginia Chapter and is the Chair of the National Certification Commissions Appeals Sub-Committee. He also serves as Corporate Chef for Jefferson Street Management Group.

Cooke named new manager at Hall Associates Career Center

At the start of the Spring 2019 semester, the Hall Associates Career Center at Virginia Western Community College welcomed a new manager.

Although Shonny Cooke’s title is new, she is already well-acquainted with the Career Center. She first joined Virginia Western in 2012, where she managed internship programs and acted as an employment relations specialist. In 2015, Cooke left to pursue another opportunity, but it wasn’t long before she was back on campus.

“The Career Center is that place where you see the impact that happens when the right education and career training meet opportunity,” Cooke said. “I love hearing from students who come back and tell you how this changed their life. You really do know you’ve made a difference.”

The Hall Associates Career Center is a free service that can be accessed by any Virginia Western student or alumnus. It is located on the second floor of Virginia Western’s Student Life Center, which underwent a significant renovation in 2014 including the addition of a fitness center and student activities space. The Career Center is named for Hall Associates, the Roanoke-based real estate management firm founded by Edwin C. Hall, a longtime member of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation Board of Directors.

While career services divisions are common at four-year colleges and universities, they remain a rarity at community colleges. But they can play a critical role in students’ success, Hall said. “With the help of the Career Center staff’s professional guidance, students can have a means to immediately seek employment after graduation.”

Providing real-time information on the regional market is a key. Career Center staff study labor market data and talk with local employers, Cooke said. “We are constantly asking, ‘What are the jobs, who’s hiring, what are the requirements and how can we help our students compete for those opportunities?’ ” she said.

The Career Center offers three primary types of services to current students and alumni:

  • Career planning: This includes a career assessment and one-on-one advising that focuses more on a student’s professional path that aligns with his or her academic plan. “We ask, ‘What do you really want to do? What are your interests and strengths? Do you have a certain passion or purpose that can lead to a profession?’ ” Cooke said.
  • Career preparation: “We connect what you’re learning in the classroom to employment.” Free workshops focus on how to write your resume for today’s HR managers, how to prepare for an interview and how to communicate the skills you possess to employers.
  • Career opportunities: Through its online job bank, career fairs, job shadowing opportunities and supervised internships, the Career Center helps students gain professional connections and relevant work experience. “We want to make sure we guide you toward employers that are hiring in that field – that we are opening up pipelines of opportunities for our students and alumni.”

Cooke earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and African-American studies from the University of Virginia at a time when college officials at many schools told students “what you majored in didn’t matter, just that you had the degree,” she said.  “I found out the hard way how important it is for your educational path to align with your career goal.”

After graduation, Cooke experienced a few false starts before landing a position as a training coordinator for at-risk youth. That job ignited her passion for career services. “What really interests me is trying to help others figure out the best pathway and being able to witness someone set a career goal, commit to the education and training it takes to get there, and land that opportunity,” she said.

Over two decades, Cooke has used her expertise in career education training and services to help students and companies alike. She’s developed and led training sessions for IT professionals, as well as workers in other industries. Cooke has created courses that help the unemployed gain the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the job market. She’s also passionate about helping business owners and other employers learn how Virginia Western students and alumni can meet their needs.

The Career Center invites employers to visit campus, interview students and make them aware of job openings. But before that happens, Career Center employees assess students’ abilities and help them fill in knowledge or experience gaps. “We need to know what our local employers are looking for but also make sure our students are prepared, so they can meet those expectations.”

The Career Center also aims to serve as a key conduit for employers who want to connect with the College in ways outside of direct hiring. Through its Workforce Solutions Division, for example, the College can develop customized training for employees in on-site classes that can cover leadership, team training, OSHA-mandated education or be built around a new initiative, such as a software launch. 

“The Career Center will be responsive to what we’re hearing from employers and communicate it back to the College,” Cooke said.  “We want to be a key connection point for business and industry, regardless of what their needs are.”

For more information on the Hall Associates Career Center, go to www.virginiawestern.edu/careercenter.

Virginia Western presents Distinguished Alumni Award to Deborah L. Petrine

The Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation recognized Deborah L. Petrine (’74), Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Care of Roanoke and Chair of the Foundation’s Advocacy Council for the Virginia Western Forward Endowment Fund: A Vision of Dr. Charles W. Steger Jr., with its 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award.

A first-generation college student, Petrine first attended Virginia Western in 1973-74, later returning for enrichment coursework.  Petrine worked her way through Virginia Tech as a secretary/receptionist in a nursing home. Upon graduation, she entered the company’s Administrator in Training Program and worked her way up through the company, eventually becoming president at one of Virginia’s largest providers of long-term care services. Under her leadership, the company expanded from skilled nursing facilities to add assisted-living facilities, a pharmacy company and a home health company. 

“Debbie’s journey typifies the best outcomes of community college opportunity. Her accomplishments and service have made an indelible impact on so many lives, and we are honored and proud to recognize her as a Distinguished Alumna,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, president of Virginia Western Community College.

Virginia Western’s Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 2006 by the Virginia Western Alumni Association and recognizes Virginia Western Community College alumni and former students who have attained extraordinary distinction in their professional field or life. The award serves to honor all the men and women whose attendance at Virginia Western helped them achieve their educational and professional goals, allowing them to better serve their communities.

In 1996, Petrine co-founded and served as President of Colonial Care, LLC, managing facilities in Virginia and North Carolina. This company grew throughout Virginia and was purchased in 1998. Petrine’s desire to be a “hands on” manager and to own and operate facilities led her to leave that organization to form CCR. CCR began operating in July 2001 and has grown to 12 skilled facilities. Additionally, in 2010 she served as president of Longleaf Senior Living, LLC, managing 35 assisted-living facilities in North Carolina.

“The one attribute that Debbie possesses that makes her a treasured mentor, colleague and friend is her internal compass. Debbie’s compass points the right way, a true north,” said David W. Tucker, President and COO of Commonwealth Care of Roanoke.

In 2005, Petrine was awarded the prestigious James G. Dunton Lifetime Achievement Award for her service to the elderly and infirm in Virginia. She served as the first female Chair of the Virginia Health Care Association from 1993-95. She also served a two-year term representing Virginia on the American Health Care Association Board of Directors. Additionally, she served four years on the Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators, was appointed in April 1997 to the statewide Nursing Facility Advisory Committee where she served two years, and was appointed by the governor in 2010 to a four-year term on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates.

Petrine received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Virginia Tech, where she has remained active. She was appointed by the governor to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in 2011 and was elected Rector in 2014, making her the first female in the school’s history to lead the board.

“I am sincerely humbled and honored to be selected for this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award and to be included alongside the previous recipients,” Petrine said. “Virginia Western was the perfect place for me. The college provided an excellent educational foundation and enabled me to pursue my dreams. Looking back, I wonder where I would be now if Virginia Western had not played such an important role in my early life. For that and the support of my family, friends and mentors along the way, I am grateful.”

Petrine continues to serve on the Board of Visitors and also on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Advisory Council. She was a member of the Virginia Tech Foundation and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Board for two years, served as the first Chair of the Center for Gerontology Futures Board upon its inception in 1992 and subsequently as the first Chair of the Pamplin College Management Department Advisory Board. She is also a lifetime member of the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy and a member of the Roanoke Valley Hokie Club.

Married and mother to two adult children, Petrine is active in her community and currently serves on several local and regional boards, including the GO Virginia Region 2 Council and Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

A Franklin County resident, Petrine will be recognized for her contributions and impact at an upcoming event on campus hosted by the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation.

For more information on the Virginia Western Alumni Association, see virginiawestern.edu/alumni or contact Philanthropy Director Amanda Mansfield at amansfield@virginiawestern.edu or (540) 857-6962.

Prior Distinguished Alumni honorees: 

2018 – Elizabeth Testerman (’06)

2017 – Dr. Carol Swain (’78)

2016 – Dr. Mary Loritsch (’74) and Chief Michael Crawley

2015 – Debbie Yancey (’97)

2014 – Chief Craig S. Harris (’00) and J. David Wine (’73)

2013 – Cheryl Cunningham (’86)

2012 – Anne Hogan (’76)

2011 – Carolyn Webster (’81)

2010 – Russell H. Ellis (’80)

2009 – Shirl D. Lamanca (’75) and Dennis R. Cronk (’72)

2008 – Donna L. Mitchell (’81)

2007 – Dr. Kent A. Murphy and Charlotte C. Tyson (’84)

2006 – John B. Williamson III (’75)