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By Neree Aron-Sando

Baking and Pastry Major Hannah Irvin graduation from the Montgomery County Community College Culinary Arts Institute in May 2015 was bittersweet.

“In April 2013, I lost my biggest support, motivation, and inspiration,” said Irvin, a 19-year-old Pottstown woman, about the death of her grandfather. “He always called me his little cook and asked if he could be the first customer at my bakery.  He had so many dreams for Hannah Irvin photo1me, and pushed me to accomplish my own. Losing him was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through. I wish he were here to taste all the goodies I made in school or to watch me walk across the stage at graduation. Every day I pushed myself to go to school and do the best I could knowing he’s watching from above.”

Not that the rest of the college experience was, please forgive the pun, a piece of cake.

Finances were one of several challenges for Irvin. “Working 30-plus hours a week and going to school full time causes exhaustion and lack of motivation,” she said. “To be able to afford my education, I became a workaholic, picking up every possible shift, and staying late and going in early became an everyday occurrence. Being able to find time to do homework, journals, projects, and convert recipes was one thing I struggled with.”

As if that weren’t enough, two days before Thanksgiving 2014, she underwent a second knee surgery.

But it was all worth it. “I never once regretted my decision to attend Montgomery County Community College. It is a tight-knit and supportive way to get your education in a timely manner. I am getting the same education here that I would at a different culinary school, for a lot less money,” she said.

Receiving the Benjamin Tumolo Scholarship for the 2014-2015 school year certainly helped, she said.

“I absolutely love the Culinary Art Institute of Montgomery County Community College. The age range of students is wide, and everyone is very supportive of every classmate. All the teachers are there to help you and want you to succeed.  I am very grateful for every opportunity that I have received while attending the CAI,” Irvin said. Hannah Irvin photo 2

Several exceptional opportunities Irvin experienced at CAI included participating in the opening of the new facility in Towamencin Township, as well as the student-operated Forty Foot Café and Bistro 1400 restaurant.

“It is something I have never experienced before and was glad to be part of the grand openings. With a lot of hard work, determination, and motivation from my classmates, we were able to accomplish something that will go down in history,” Irvin said.

But she hopes she will experience it again when she opens her own bakery in a few years. But first, she will be moving to Sandusky, Ohio, to work at Cedar Point, voted the best amusement park in the world for 17 years.

“I was hired as a crew member on the catering team,” Irvin said. “After I experience Cedar Point this summer and fall, I plan on traveling around the United States and Europe to get different experiences around different chefs and pastry chefs; however, about five years after graduation, my goal is to open up a local bakery.”

CAI has honed some natural talent that may serve her on the road to meeting that goal.

“In high school, I was the only tenth grader to compete in the FCCLA [Family, Career and Community Leaders of America] cake decorating competition,” she said. “I walked out with a bronze medal.  My junior and senior year, I also competed and won silver medals both years. Senior year in my culinary class, I was awarded highest GPA out of the seniors in my class.”

And as for evidence of enthusiasm, she was captain of cheerleading in high school for three out of her four years. “I was part of the tennis team, marching band, cheerleading squad, and track team throughout high school, as well as being an avid member of FCCLA and was secretary senior year.”

But her favorite accomplishment was winning a local “Chopped” competition in Pottstown.

“February 2013, a local restaurant named Grumpy’s came into my high school culinary class hosting a competition of ‘Chopped’ in the class. The sandwich my best friend and I developed came out on top,” she said. The duo was required to use an orange, marshmallows, walnuts, and a chicken.” The sandwich was so good, it was featured on Grumpy’s menu every Wednesday until the next winner was crowned.

“Winning that competition was the push I needed to know that I can do everything to put my mind to,” she said.

“One last thing,” Irvin said. “I am very grateful that I am not only walking out of this with a degree but lifelong friends and mentors as well.”