Even in uncertain times created by COVID-19, success stories are happening on a regular basis at Greene County Career and Technology Center in Waynesburg.

Three CTC students who, despite enduring a challenging year because of the coronavirus, have continued their path to bright futures in their desired careers.

Kaitlyn Pester, 17, and Zachary Yeager, 18, both of Waynesburg, students in the CTC Culinary Arts program, participated in a major culinary management competition called the Sullivan University Throwdown in April, and their hard work paid off, resulting in each student earning a $20,000 scholarship to the school.

Dan Wagner, culinary arts instructor, said Sullivan University, located in Louisville, Ky., is one of the leading culinary schools in the country to offer online demonstrations and classes online after COVID-19 impacted the nation.

Knowing students could be not awarded scholarships for competitions because they were being shut down to the pandemic, the university created virtual events, classes and competitions that students could engage in, Wagner added.

Unlike typical in-person culinary management competitions, however, the university’s Throwdown in April required Pester and Yeager to get creative, working as an efficient team to create and design a restaurant concept.

They utilized Powerpoint and created an online video where they each worked from their respective homes on different parts of the competition and then later edited their presentation together before submitting their entry to judges.

The duo – who both started in the culinary arts program at CTC during their sophomore year – had to utilize technology and use Google Docs, and both students admitted working in that environment was quite a challenge.

“We hadn’t done anything like this before, so it was very hectic,” Pester said. “I think we both felt overwhelmed at first, but once we got the hang of it we found our groove as a team.”

Yeager agreed, adding that the work environment created by COVID-19 created challenges.

“It definitely wasn’t easy working from home and then having to effectively edit what we recorded, but after we started to gel it became easier,” Yeager said.

Both said they were excited to see their hard work pay off with their scholarships. Pester is in her senior year at Waynesburg Central High School and CTC, and she plans to attend Sullivan University in the fall of 2021, while Yeager, who graduated from high school this past summer, arrived on the university campus Thursday to begin the start of his year.

Yeager said his future goals include graduating from Sullivan University, gaining valuable experience working in the restaurant industry and then ultimately owning and managing his own restaurant.

Pester shared similar sentiments, saying that she excited about attending Sullivan University next year and eventually enjoying a career in the restaurant industry.

Both students expressed their gratitude for their educational experiences at CTC.

“The program and CTC helped me be a better student,” Pester said. “I have wanted to pursue my interests in culinary arts for a long time, and I’m very grateful for Mr. Wagner, the program and the technology center for the experiences and for inspiring me.”

Wagner said he could not be more proud of the duo.

“Zachary was a fantastic student within the culinary arts program,” he said. “When he worked on projects, his mathematical abilities in management was above many I have seen. He was focused to detail, which helped make their Throwdown project so successful. He and Kaitlyn worked well together as a team.

“And I also cannot offer enough praise for Kaitlyn, whose skills and dedication also greatly contributed to the project’s success,” he continued. “She has been an incredible student in the culinary arts program, and her passion and commitment to the program is amazing. Like Zachary, I see a very bright future for her.”

Another CTC student in a different program is also enjoying his own success story.

Cameron Barnhart, 18, of Carmichaels has been in the CTC Cooperative Education Program since his sophomore year and will graduate this school year within the center’s Building Construction program.

Barnhart entered into the Co-Op Program after being recommended by a teacher and meeting the program’s grade and attendance requirements. The Co-Op enables students to work with different companies and businesses while still in school.

Barnhart said his experiences have been plentiful, as he has been able to learn hands-on skills while working on building and/or construction projects for local and state prisons, Habitat for Humanity, Blueprints, Southwest Training Services and the Carmichaels Senior Center.

He is currently working on projects with the county’s Redevelopment Authority.

“Working on construction projects is very rewarding, especially when you’re starting from scratch and then finishing it, and you’re able to say, ‘I did that,’” Barnhart said. “I’m very grateful for the experiences, and cannot thank CTC enough for offering the Co-Op program.”

Barnhart is very busy with the Co-Op program and CTC and school classes, as well as participating in high school band and baseball and also working at Waynesburg University. However, he is ready to take on all challenges.

“This has been a challenging time because of the pandemic, for sure,” he said. “But adversity only makes me try harder. I love being in the Building Construction and Co-Op programs here. I feel honored to be here. After I graduate, I plan to continue my education and then eventually open up my own business. Building and constructing runs in my family, and I intend to proudly continue that.”

As for the CTC Co-Op program, Jennifer Nix, CTC Workforce Development Coordinator and Adult and Cooperative Education Coordinator, said the program definitely offers opportunities for students to succeed.

“I feel work experience is just as valuable as anything you can teach in a classroom setting,” she said. “And I make it my mission to employ as many students as possible out in the field.”

CTC Administrative Director Mark Krupa said he has been thrilled to see many of the center’s students experience success stories, like those of Pester, Yeager and Barnhart.

“Despite all of the uncertainties with COVID-19, or maybe because of the pandemic, we are seeing more of our students apply themselves more, work harder and put their best foot forward, and that’s terrific,” Krupa said. “I am awfully proud of our center, of the kids and instructors, who continue to go above and beyond what is asked of them and who exceed expectations every day.”

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