In her first semester at Colorado State University, Dawn Mallette visited Bender’s class to share information about the Family and Consumer Sciences undergraduate degree program at CSU. Mallette, an assistant professor in the School of Education and the FCS program coordinator, explained how FCS prepares students to pursue career options in a variety of industries, including education.
An interdepartmental degree, FCS coursework encompasses a wide range of subjects, including family and interpersonal relationships, human development and parenting, personal financial literacy, resource management, career planning and preparation, human sexuality, nutrition and wellness, food safety and production, food sciences and culinary arts, and interior and fashion design. For Bender, whose career aspirations had been focused on owning her own restaurant, the key moment came when Mallette mentioned that anyone interested in teaching in the ProStart program should pursue FCS.
“It all clicked,” said Bender. “I was in ProStart as a high school student; we learned how to work in a restaurant environment. When I started at CSU, I thought I wanted to open my own restaurant.”
ProStart is a hospitality education program for Colorado high school students. Sponsored by the Colorado Restaurant Foundation, Colorado Restaurant Association, and National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, the program offers high school and college credit, along with scholarship and paid work opportunities to students.
“The program offers employability skills,” explained Bender. “Students learn front and back of house, cooking, and managing skills through curriculum, hands-on experience, and competitions.”
‘Couldn’t be a better fit’
Following Mallette’s presentation to her class, Bender reached out to Mallette to learn more.
“She went through the whole program with me, and I knew that was it. It couldn’t be a better fit,” said Bender.
As Bender’s adviser, Mallette helped review Bender’s transcript and the program of study to determine the best way for Bender to dive into FCS, then helped her to build her course plan. The rest, says Bender, fell into place.
Through her courses, Bender realized that her passions for philanthropy, hospitality, and working with people aligned with the FCS degree. Her determination to ‘pay it forward’ and positively impact students through teaching led her to choose the education option.
“ProStart offered me hands-on experience as a high school student that got me excited about school,” said Bender. “My ProStart teacher was amazing and genuinely cared. I wanted to be just like her.”
When the time came for Bender to find a student teaching opportunity, Mallette once again offered her assistance, helping Bender to secure an opportunity in Thornton, Colorado.
“I was actually able to teach with my ProStart teacher,” said Bender. “It was such a great experience, and it was so awesome that Dawn made that happen.”
Although the food and culinary aspects of the curriculum drew her to the FCS program, Bender said the interdisciplinary program of study gave her the knowledge to help her students and others around her with general life skills.
“Anything that FCS covers, students need in their lives,” she said. “Being able to pull what’s going on in the world and bring it into the classroom is so beneficial to students. ‘Adulting’ is hard; kids need to know how to be an adult and do things like manage their finances.”
Additionally, she said, she uses the financial knowledge she gained through her coursework to encourage her parents to save for retirement.
Personal and professional challenges
A first-generation college student, Bender credits her parents with her decision to pursue college.
“My dad is in construction, and my mom is in retail,” she said. “They work really hard, and always lived within their means. They encouraged my brother and me to go to college, and saved money for our education. I am so honored that I can make my parents proud by finishing college. This experience was the best, and I know I couldn’t have done this without them.”
While student teaching, Bender learned the importance of giving and receiving support.
“Student teaching in general is stressful, but during my first week, I experienced a traumatic family event and one of my students was hospitalized. I had to discover what to say to kids going through traumatic events. I had to figure out how to be a support for my family and for my students, and for myself,” she said.
“I learned a lot about the importance of self-care as an educator, and the support of Dawn and my FCS cohort made a huge difference, especially since I was teaching in a different city, which can be isolating.”
Inspiring the next generation
“Passion and caring embodies everything Erin is about,” said Mallette. “She has achieved great things throughout her Family and Consumer Sciences degree here at CSU, all while dealing with personal and family challenges.”
Bender, said Mallette, was the first of the Fall 2017 FCS graduates to be offered a full-time teaching position – in fact, Bender was hired by a school in Colorado Springs while still completing her student teaching semester.
“It is only fitting that she would be the first Fall 2017 FCS graduate to be hired while still student teaching,” said Mallette. “All her hard work and perseverance paid off.”
Bender’s new position started the Monday after CSU’s commencement weekend. She is taking over an FCS position for a teacher who is leaving during the school’s winter break.
“I’m starting in December so I can get to know the students and what they’ve learned so far,” explained Bender. “Then I can work to build out the rest of the year’s curriculum plans over the break and be ready to go in January. I’m excited to work with new students.”
Her passion for working with students is not limited to the school year, however. After serving as the external philanthropy chair for Chi Omega, Bender put her knowledge of community service and volunteerism to work. She was hired by the City of Thornton as the director of the Thornton Youth and Teen Volunteer Corps, spending her summers with students aged 11-18 as they work on community service projects such as flood repair, fence staining, trail building, weed pulling, food drives, and more.
“It’s awesome to see, at such a young age, kids get inspired to help others,” she said. “They give up their summers to volunteer.”
Bender said she’s excited to bring this experience and community connections to her new school’s chapter of the student organization, Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. It’s important, she said, to show students the power of giving and volunteering.
“Even if you don’t have the financial capacity to give, but you have two hands and are able to do something for others – that’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “It’s a small way to start changing the world.”
The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.