Spend a few minutes with Deb Burch in the culinary arts building on the Wellsville campus and you will quickly learn she loves her job and that she loves Alfred State.
Her career teaching at Alfred State spans 25 years and it all started with a dare. “My husband dared me to apply for the job here. I thought I was not qualified to be a teacher. I had never trained anyone. He insisted that I do it all the time in my job. He told me that I trained people every time we got a new employee at my parent’s restaurant in Hinsdale, NY.”
That dare returned Burch to her alma mater and started a teaching career that has prepared countless culinary arts students for careers of their own.
Burch’s passion for culinary arts came when she attended BOCES in high school. She really was drawn to art and after realizing drafting and CAD were not for her, she followed her love of baking and cooking to culinary arts.
Her parents urged her to go to college and she chose Alfred State because she could continue to work her 30-hour a week job at a bakery in Cuba, NY.
“It was a great experience all around. I could keep my job which was really important because I had to pay for everything myself. Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Slocomb, and Mrs. Engelder were excellent teachers. They were always positive and wanted you to do your best. Our class was tight knit, and we had a great time.”
Burch started as an assistant and two years later she became an instructor. “When I started, we had eight to ten students in the class. We built it up to 40 students. I had to dream up new tasks and find new rotations for the students to do. I asked ACES (Auxiliary Campus Enterprises & Services) if I could make product for the Alfred campus and we actually started having bake sales.”
The bake sales have become some of her proudest moments of her career. Over the years, bake sales have sold up to $3 - $4,000 of product at a dollar a piece. The proceeds of the sales have been donated to worthy causes like foster care and various veteran programs.
Burch, now the department chair, is part of a teaching team that features three other Alfred State alums (Keith Glover ‘94, Rebecca Milliner ‘04, and Kevin Scott ‘00). “There isn’t anything we can’t accomplish. I have three excellent instructors working with me. Our team is on the same page. We want what is best for the students and we want to look good. We love what we are doing.”
The culinary arts program is different at Alfred State. “Day one we serve 450 to 500 students. We are with the students all day. We are with them the whole time whether we are lecturing or in the lab. We are getting people ready to work. They might not start in management right off the bat, but they will go up fast because of their work ethic.”
The culinary arts program has graduates all over the place. Burch tries to keep track of them on Facebook and is proud that many of her students own their own bakeries now.
Recently, a former student who currently works at a bakery in Rochester, returned to campus as a judge for the Skills USA competition. He sought out his former professor and made her tear up a bit. “He came to me and said I wanted to thank you for the career you gave me. When I was a student here, I didn’t do well in my freshman year, I called you at home, you told me I was welcome to come back, and that you would get me through what I needed to learn. You did that and I want to thank you because without that I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Burch feels training student’s is the easy part. “You never know when you are going to touch someone’s life. There is a place in this
industry for everyone.”
“My favorite part is when I am working with a student, and I am right at the end of my rope with them. Then all the sudden their eyes light up and they get it. They understand what they are doing.”
Burch is thankful for the support the program has received. Support received from the current Dean of the School of Applied Technology Jeff Stevens, support from ACES, and support from donors to her program like Evelyn Turner.
“Jeff Stevens and I worked together on an ARC grant for the dining hall. The renovation was huge for us. It updated us. The new system was installed in December and the students are just flourishing and growing so much.”
“We get amazing support from ACES. They work with us on everything.”
“Evelyn Turner has been amazing. She has built scholarships for our students. One time, she asked me what we needed for the program. I told her we needed a new bakery case with a separate hot and cold sides. She went and bought it for us the next week. She has been a huge supporter of our curriculum and we couldn’t have done nearly as much as we have done without her.”
Burch proudly displays pictures of each class of students in the culinary arts building. A reminder of the program she has spent her career growing.
The 1979 graduate loves the program and Alfred State. “Alfred State has always given me an endless amount of opportunities. It has opened doors.”