Navy veteran Veronica Payne finds her creativity in LCCC's culinary arts program
Veronica Payne has had a lot of life experiences since graduating high school. She joined the United States Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps while still attending Elyria High School and then enlisted in the United States Navy during her senior year.
Two weeks after graduation Payne left for bootcamp and then spent four years sailing the world. She lived on the USS Bonhomme Richard and the USS Rushmore, preparing food for up to 5,000 service members. While on the ships, she explored different cultures’ cuisines, sourcing food from nearby countries. It was her favorite part of the job.
“The best thing for me was learning about the different foods around the world,” she said. “I got to experience the foods that we would receive, all the different types of fruit, the different types of meat.”
The exposure was invaluable, but it wasn’t until Payne stepped off the ship and onto the Lorain County Community College campus to enroll in its Culinary Arts program that she began exploring some of most important aspects of future career: her creativity.
Starting with Veterans Services
After four years of service, Payne transitioned out of the military to focus on her first child — she has thee today. Before leaving, she spoke with the Lorain County Veterans Affairs office in Elyria, down the street from LCCC. Payne said the support made a hard transition a little easier.
“They have programs and resources to help you navigate what you need to do before you get out and what you need to do as soon as you get out,” Payne says.
While enrolling in LCCC’s Associate of Applied Business in Hospitality & Tourism Management program, Payne connected with LCCC’s office for Veterans and Military Service Members. She says they were a constant support system while navigating the enrollment process and beyond.
“We took a lot of pride in that veterans office here at the college,” Payne said. “It was nice knowing that they would always call me back, always answer my emails with any questions I had.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the same office helped her figure out what to do to keep her military benefits, including financial aid and added tuition coverage.
“I thought I was going to lose some benefits because I was no longer taking those classes on campus,” she said. “They made sure that we were taken care of and that we weren’t losing any of our benefits.”
Cultivating her creativity
With processes and paperwork off her mind, Payne was able to focus on her coursework. And she quickly learned that Chef Adam Schmith, program director, and Chef Bradley Ball, lead instructor, were just as invested in her future as she was. And as a single parent, Payne embraced the flexibility the program offered, as well as the individualized attention they provided, including finding which courses she could bypass with prior learning experience in the Navy.
“Chef Adam helped me create a degree program fit for me because I did spend so long in the military doing exactly what I do today,” Payne said. And when home life began to impede her school life, all her instructors were quick to help.
“My son had surgery and I had to miss a week of school and they’ve always been accommodating,” she recalled. “And when my son flew out to see his dad last semester, I reached out to my professor to take my exam early. They’ve always made it a point to help if they can.”
As Payne moved through the semesters, she started to realize how much she was growing as a person, thanks in part to her freedom to explore. “I have a deeper passion for baking that had gotten lost in my years of service.”
In the Navy, it was more important to feed the masses than it was to prepare a beautifully-plated meal. But the culinary arts program didn’t just allow for her creative side, her instructors helped her uncover it.
“That’s what I like about coming here. They listen to us, and they allow us to be a little more creative here,” she said. “Chef Adam and Chef Brad went above and beyond to help me grow into a confident and creative chef.”
Payne has big goals for her future, including owning her own bakery one day. But she knows accomplishing the big goals means meeting the smaller ones along the way. This spring she’ll achieve three of those goals – graduating from LCCC with an Associate of Applied Business in Hospitality & Tourism Management, along with earning two online certificates in guest services and customer service.
While she plans to continue classes, this time around the business side of culinary, she’d like to settle in at a restaurant or bakery that allows her creative side to flourish.
“My immediate career plans are to learn hands-on from a pastry chef and take everything I’ve learned to create my own style of baking,” she said.
She also plans to take a moment to breathe, and to celebrate accomplishing the smaller goal, which really was no small feat.
“I’m proud of how far I’ve got,” she said. “The pandemic did not slow me down; three children have not slowed down. I’m finally at the finish line, and I’m proud of myself.”
"That’s what I like about coming here. They listen to us, and they allow us to be a little more creative here."