Twenty years have passed since Dustin Rockwell got his high school GED. At the time, he didn’t feel like college was an option, he had the necessary support or quite frankly, he would do well. He, like many others, went straight to work and for years, went job to job in search of one that would fulfill him.
“A couple of years ago I leased a property in Ruston, Louisiana, and opened a coffee shop,” Rockwell recalls. “For a year or so, I did okay with it, but growing it into more didn’t seem possible, so I closed the doors when the lease was up.”
What became evident to him was that he needed to go back to school and learn how to really run a restaurant, or in his case, a café. Rockwell was worried that he had been so far removed from a classroom that going to college and doing well might be impossible.
“I stopped listening to that voice that said I wasn’t going to cut it and now I’m a junior at Chef John Folse Culinary Institute,” he said. “I made a promise to myself to give it all I’ve got.”
While at the beginning of his college career he thought it’d be awkward with his peers being so much younger, he actually gets along great with his classmates and feels like he’s a role model of sorts for them.
The restaurant industry is home to a diverse workforce and because of the broad array of opportunities that exist for individuals, the paths are not always conventional. It is for individuals like Rockwell that the LRA Education Foundation offers scholarships to annually, in addition to those it awards to traditional students.
This second shot at a higher education and his faith in himself earned him the coveted and prestigious Jim Funk Scholarship this year. Rockwell and 23 others will be recognized as LRAEF Scholars, March 21 at the 3rd Annual Serving the Future, Celebrating Careers in Hospitality event at Generations Hall in New Orleans.
The LRAEF Scholarship Fund was created in 2009 to provide financial support for individuals interested in furthering their education to support a career in the culinary, hospitality or related industries. The Jim Funk Scholarship is named for former LRA President & CEO who guided the creation of the LRAEF during his 30 years with the organization.
“I would tell anyone thinking about going to school later in life to just do it!” he exclaimed. “I don’t regret it for a second and I’m thankful for the LRAEF for helping me get there.”
The LRA will certainly be tracking his progress as he intends to open a café offering coffee, soup, salads and sandwiches and of course, specials of the day.