BELL GARDENS HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 2011 JOHNSON AND WALES UNIVERSITY, DENVER CLASS OF 2015
For Bell Gardens High School alumna Maria Razo-Ayon, going to college was always the plan. But with seven brothers and sisters in her family, she knew doing the work to get accepted and earn enough financial assistance to attend was up to her.
“It was hard to compete for money from local organizations in the San Gabriel Valley area,” said Razo-Ayon, who ultimately earned scholarships from the California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (CRAEF), including the Norms Restaurants Scholarship, as well as a Promising Young Chef award from Johnson & Wales University. “It really means a lot that I was able to make it happen with the help of CRAEF and my ProStart experience. I’m the first one in my family to go, and I get to go to the college of my dreams, pursue my goals and set a good example for my siblings.”
Razo-Ayon went to work early her senior year, writing essays to apply for dozens of scholarships in her free time, while also taking advanced-level culinary courses at school and working part-time as a prep cook at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.
“I was able to cook for the L.A. Lakers, which was such a great opportunity,” she said, adding that she plans to pick up shifts there when home for school breaks. “It made me see that I might want to work for a sports team someday. It’s interesting to learn about their dietary restrictions and the nutrition they need to perform well.”
Razo-Ayon boarded a plane for the Johnson & Wales, Denver campus in September, after receiving encouragement from her culinary instructor Debbie Silveira, a Johnson & Wales, Providence alumna. She’s now a freshman pursuing a baking and pastry major.
Still completing general education classes and working at an on-campus, Razo-Ayon is looking forward to getting back in the kitchen, though feeling slightly nervous to see what college-level culinary courses will be like.
“I’ve heard it’s pretty intense because it’s six hours with no breaks, but I’m anxious to get in there,” she said.
A Southern California girl, Razo-Ayon has enjoyed getting used to the cooler, mountainous environment in Denver, while also getting used to the dynamic of living hundreds of miles away from her family.
“At first my mom loved the idea of me going somewhere away to college, but once the time started getting closer for me to leave, she started drawing back,” she said. “She flew out here with me, though, and she loved it here.”
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