Prepping for the Future: Alum Mentors Student at Marriott Internship

If you were to follow the scent of Southern cooking — scallops and grits, cornmeal-crusted Mississippi catfish and smoked cauliflower hoppin’ john — to the kitchen at the Marriott’s Golden Owl Tavern in Charlotte, North Carolina, you’d find Aijah Dawson ’17 and Asia Rucker ’21 working side by side.

The pair share a name, a university (Dawson is an alum of JWU Charlotte, while Rucker is a senior there) and a passion for the culinary arts. You may think that all of these similarities added up to an automatic internship for Rucker at the new  UNC Charlotte Marriott Hotel & Conference Center where Dawson is sous chef, but in fact, Rucker would not be interning with the world-renowned hospitality brand had Dawson not taken a closer look at the young chef from her alma mater.

JWU alumni and student work together in kitchen at Marriot

Making an Internship from Scratch

Dawson received Rucker's résumé and saw she was looking to gain front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house experience. The hotel would be a perfect fit … but there was no internship program available. Yet.

“I was Asia five years ago,” Dawson says. “I interviewed her to see where her head was. I did a Marriott internship while I was in school. I see so much of myself in her, not just because she has my name! We are both from small towns in South Carolina, both of us pursuing this dream of cooking.” 

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So, Dawson made the internship happen. In a matter of weeks, after working out the opportunity with human resources, Dawson hired Rucker. “This is my first restaurant work experience and part of my career goals, how to fully prepare for after college.” Rucker says. “I want to grow in the different parts of working on the line, banquets and catering.”

Asia Rucker '21 works on her pastry skills

Johnson & Wales Table Talk

The duo work side-by-side in the kitchen now, where they literally compare notes.

Dawson says, “Yes, all the time! Asia and I compare classes and reminisce often. I share what I remember about certain methods of cooking. I still have all my jackets, collars, pants and books. I think back a lot, especially now that I am a manager. Ms. G (Marcella Giannasio, associate professor) taught us how to become a manager, having to know the front and back of the house, setting a formal table and serving. I learned every inch of it. Hers was my favorite class.”  

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“I am so proud of Asia and Aijah," Giannasio, associate professor in the College of Food Innovation & Technology, says. “They were so inspiring in the classroom, and it brings me joy that they are able to translate their experience in the classroom to their career today. Their reflection on the importance of the front of the house, in the Service class, is important to me and to all the students who are in the class now and in the future. Knowledge is power.”

Sweet Success

Rucker is taking it all in. “I am doing things in bulk, larger quantities of things. And repetition. Plating is very important. I want to be a recipe specialist, an influencer. I want to critique recipes and help managers and owners improve their menus. And maybe have a brunch food truck!” 

“When I first met her,” Aijah says, “She was quiet and timid. I’m watching her turn into someone else.”

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