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Disney Aspire Program Provides Tuition, Books for Valencia Students Attending Culinary School

Culinary student Jacqueline Doucette and Dean Alex Erdmann at the joint downtown UCF and Valencia College campuses. Photo: Danielle Prieur

It’s been two months since the joint University of Central Florida and Valencia College campuses opened in downtown Orlando.

More than forty students who are full-time and hourly employees at Disney are attending Valencia’s School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality on the Disney Aspire program.

The program covers 100 percent tuition and other expenses like books. It also offers one-on-one coaching from the application process through graduation.

Students can enroll in in-person or online GED, associate, masters or graduate degrees. Degrees don't have to be related to a person's job at Disney and can be completed even if a person leaves the company.

90.7 WMFE spoke with Dean Alex Erdmann and Aspire student Jacqueline Doucette. 

Doucette is getting her associate degree in baking and pastry management while working at Epcot at Sunshine Seasons in The Land Pavilion. She says the degree will help her to continue to move up in her field.

"Eventually I would like to transfer to a baking pastry role maybe at a signature restaurant or one of the resorts. But I want to keep a career at Disney and keep working for the company because they're a great company."

She says it's also helped her find her calling when it comes to everything sugar.

"I like to bake in my free time when I do have time and I do want to make this a career. So I did think I would go back to school but I didn't know I would like baking and pastry. And I love it."

Erdmann says the Aspire program is just one of the ways Valencia is making culinary school accessible to students from a variety of different backgrounds.

"It breaks down a barrier because basically it pays for it. And that's a big, big barrier sometimes. And it's also a barrier for people who say 'I'm in the industry. I don't have the time, I don't have the money.' Now there's no excuse."

He says that includes prospective students who may not have any experience in the industry.

"We have somebody right now whose been a nurse and now this person wants to become a chef and wants to have their own cafe and open up their own business."

For more information on financial aid available at Valencia, click on the link.
If you'd like to listen to the interview, click on the clip above.

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.
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