Story by Julianna Cervi and Jeff Dodge
The coordinator of CSU’s Hospitality Management Program has won a top national teaching honor.
Jeffrey Miller, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, was named the 2017 CAFÉ/Sysco Corporation Educator of the Year. He received the honor, which came with a $1,500 grant, at the 13th Annual Leadership Conference of the Center for the Advancement of Food Service Education (CAFÉ) held in June in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“Jeff Miller is one of Colorado State University’s finest educators,” said department head Michael Pagliassotti, who nominated him. “This award is a testament to his efforts to educate and prepare students for careers in hospitality management.”
About the award
Food-service distributor Sysco is in its third year of supporting the annual national recognition, which acknowledges the industry contributions of food-service instructors. Recipients of the award — who received endorsements from their administrators, program and industry colleagues, and former and current students — are professional culinarians with celebrated commercial work experience prior to teaching.
Miller was a professional chef for 20 years before beginning his higher education career. He spent his first five years at Utah State before his 17-year tenure at CSU.
“Having been a chef helps me as an educator, but also helps me relate to my students,” Miller said. “I can say I know this or that because I’ve been in the trenches.”
He added that having a student-operated restaurant on campus such as the Aspen Grille, which he helped found with now-retired CSU faculty member Ken Smith, probably contributed to his winning the award.
“It’s a pretty cool classroom,” he said of the Grille in the Lory Student Center, which provides hands-on experience to hospitality management students every semester. “This award is probably not so much for me, or any specific thing I did, but an accumulation of our efforts to train students for their careers. It’s nice to be recognized by your peers.”
‘Light bulb goes on’
Miller said his favorite part of teaching is seeing that “a-ha” moment in students’ eyes.
“At some point, you see them get it, the light bulb goes on,” he explained. “You show them something they haven’t seen before. That’s the exciting part.”
“I have collaborated with Dr. Miller on a number of scholarly projects, and am always impressed by his chef’s workhorse mentality – the goal is always to get the job done cleanly, professionally, and to leave the kitchen (so to speak) better than we found it,” Jonathan Deutsch, a professor of culinary arts and food science at Drexel University, wrote in a recommendation letter for Miller.
“The importance of education is inarguable. It is the very vitality of nearly every profession,” said Britney Jerome, corporate chef of Sysco Columbia in South Carolina. “Though we read about skilled, disciplined, ingenious chefs in magazines, watch them on television and proudly cheer them on social media, the educators from schools notable and humble alike who trained those skills, sparked that genius and nurtured those minds of curiosity and innovation are almost always overlooked.”
The runner-ups for the award were Frank C. Costantino, dean of the School of Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of New York at Monroe College, and Toni Lynn D’Onofrio of Westchester Community College in Westchester, N.Y.
CAFÉ links the food-service classroom to the food-service industry to provide needed resources to educators so that they may more successfully train students for fulfilling careers in the hospitality industry. CAFÉ was founded in 2002 and is dedicated to addressing the unique needs of highly specialized professionals who wear two hats as culinarians and teachers.
The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.