The Culinary Arts Teacher
William N. Miller Memorial School, Napakiak
Melinda Dooley is an award-winning culinary arts teacher who led a team of Anchorage high school students to win a statewide cooking competition and earn a place at nationals. The competition required Melinda’s students to prepare a gourmet three-course meal in under an hour, making everything by hand and using only two portable burners.
At Anchorage’s Robert Service High School, the ProStart program is relatively new. ProStart is a nationwide program to teach students skills in the field of culinary arts, culminating in annual interscholastic cooking competitions. Melinda introduced ProStart to Service High just three years ago and quickly developed a team of champions.
Though she is an accomplished teacher with more than 25 years of experience, Melinda didn’t always aspire to teach culinary arts. When she entered college, Melinda was focused on earning a degree in chemistry.
“My mother is a chemistry teacher, my dad’s a chemist, and my brother is a chemist,” Melinda said. But when she took a class on the chemistry of food and applied her knowledge of chemistry to cooking, something sparked. It inspired Melinda to enter her university’s family consumer science program and begin a lifelong passion for teaching culinary arts.
Having worked at a non-union school earlier in her career, Melinda finds a lot of value in being a member of NEA-Alaska. One of the biggest differences she noticed is that NEA-Alaska helps maximize the time she spends working directly with students.
“I spend so much more time teaching at this school than I ever have in the past,” Melinda said. “NEA-Alaska has created time for me to teach in the classroom.”
Melinda develops her curriculum to highlight practical applications of math and science. Her students study the chemical reaction that produces a perfect rise on a batch of blueberry muffins and learn how to make detailed budgets for catering events. Melinda’s teaching style challenges her students to bring in knowledge they develop in other subjects and apply it to the culinary arts.
Melinda goes beyond teaching nutrition and food preparation. Her students learn how to work as a team, communicate under pressure, and earn certifications that will give them a head start when they seek employment. Melinda enjoys teaching these skills because it opens a range of doors for her students, whether they’re looking for a career in foodservice or a part-time job to help pay for college.
Melinda’s goal as a teacher is to set her students up for success in life. “I don’t know if they’re going to go into the culinary arts,” she said. “But the skills they learn in my classroom apply to any job they have in the future.”