RIT re-employment program helps student enter the workforce

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A. Sue Weisler

After being laid off, Rachelle Danno enrolled in RIT's Center for Multidisciplinary Studies and crafted a unique degree program combining courses in fine art, food service management and business management.

After being laid off from her job at a local telecommunications company in January 2007, Rachelle Danno was rethinking her direction, trying to decide her next steps.

These steps lead her to the RIT Professional Re-employment Education Program, or PREP, an educational re-entry program that supports qualified individuals after a layoff or downsizing. Within three months, Danno was enrolled in the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies. She crafted a degree that took heaping cupfuls of fine art and food service management courses and spiced them up with a pinch of business management. She added a drop of communication courses for a minor, a dash of Úlan, and voila, she crafted all her passions into a delicious career.

“Everything I love, I rolled into this program,” she says, recalling how things fell into place and launched a career path that has been richly satisfying. The majority of her credits from previous college work were transferable. As part of the PREP Program, she qualified for the 60 percent tuition coverage the program allows. She had the remainder covered through scholarships, specifically the Osher Re-Entry and Donald N. and Jeris J. Boyce Scholarships. With her finances simmering nicely, Danno was able to concentrate on her degree program.

“I’m all about food,” she says. “This is what I love, what I’m passionate about. I’m always reading and researching trends, any new products and ideas.”

She put some of these trends into the mix for this year’s Puttin’ on the RITz annual black-tie dinner and fundraiser for the School of Hospitality and Service Management. As the executive chef, Danno and the planning team developed a seven-course dinner for more than 200 guests at Oak Hill Country Club in March.

The dinner is the highlight of the season for the School of Hospitality and the executive chef position is one of the most prestigious sought by the students. Danno guided the sous chef, the pastry chef and the kitchen staff, and worked with the planning committee to develop the themed menu, this year called Savoring Health, which boasted cuisine from around the world.

“The RITz crew was amazing. There were 15 students and we also had two students who came from the college in Croatia for the event. We were all able to pull it off,” she says.

The Oak Hill chefs were on hand that evening in case they were needed, but they did not need to intervene, Danno says. They were impressed with the students and gave the entire team compliments for a successful event.

But the best part of what turned out to be a very exciting evening came as the group was getting ready to serve dessert. “We were prepping the seventh course and the provost called all the students out of the kitchen. Here we were trying to plate the dessert, but the provost called and we went into the ballroom—to applause and a standing ovation. That moment was so awesome!”

In May, Danno attends the National Restaurant Association Trade Show in Chicago where she will be honored as one of the nominees for the Salute to Excellence Awards. The awards are given to individuals who are current and future leaders in the restaurant and food service industry. She was nominated by faculty in the School of Hospitality who have seen her grow from an enthusiastic student who loved to cook, to a chef well on her way to making the food service industry an appetizing career.

“RIT allowed me to make my dreams come true,” says Danno. In the spirit of giving back, she also shares information with other students about how to take advantage of RIT programs and provides the encouragement she was given in abundance.

Danno completed her course work in winter quarter. “Now I am working and getting as much experience as I can,” she says.

The Irondequoit native is currently employed by Wegmans. Opportunities are sprouting up locally and out of state for Danno who is carefully deciding what her next course will be.

Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates, the saying goes, and at other times, it is like a rich dessert—a truffle tart, according to Danno.