Student Success Stories

Video interview with Genaro Vargas a ProStart Program Alumni and graduate of Bend High School and Cascade Culinary Institute, and is making a significant contribution to the restaurant industry at Zydeco Restaurant in Bend.

Genero Vargas

student-genaro-vGenaro Vargas’s dream has always been to attend culinary school. Even before he graduated from Bend High School, he started researching his options. He chose to attend the Cascade Culinary Institute for its prestigious program and knowledgeable faculty.

“By attending the COCC, I’m getting the same education as at a private or more expensive school for a lot less money,” says Genaro. The youngest of ten siblings, Genaro is the only one to graduate from high school and continue his education at college. His parents, who live in Mexico, are not able to provide financial support. He works at La Rosa and Pine Tavern restaurants part time during the school year and full time during the summer. Last fall he took 18 credits while working 30-plus hours a week.

“So far I have had the immense fortune to receive scholarships and financial aid that have helped me to pay for my tuition without having to take out a loan,” says Genaro. “However, I have to put a lot of effort into keep my grades high to continue receiving financial aid.

“My experience as a college student has been gratifying, but it also has been a tough process to keep up with. My advice for all of you who are going through diversity or are considering going to college, is not to let your dreams collapse despite the many struggles you’ll have to overcome. The results of your hard work and efforts will pay off.”

Jessica Littlefield


Before starting college, Jessica Littlefield had jobs in retail, title and escrow and a short tenure as a preschool teacher, but none made her feel “complete and satisfied.” “I have always been the one in our group of friends who would throw all the parties, cooking all the food and decorating to fit the occasion,” she says.

“One day my husband and I were talking about how I could make what I love to do a career and that’s when I got serious about going to college.” Jessica started classes in fall 2011 and has been named to the Dean’s List two consecutive terms. She is working on a degree in culinary and pastry arts degrees as well as event planning with the goal of owning her own catering and event planning company.

Jessica says that COCC has been a great experience: “I have been able to meet others who have the same interests. I have learned so many new things and am feeling more productive than I have in a long time.” “All of my instructors have been very informative, great at answering my many questions and very encouraging in everything I have set out to do. They have offered me many opportunities to practice my craft as well as get on-the-job training.” Her children motivate her to continue striving: “I want to show them how to succeed and the empowering feeling that comes with that success. I can’t wait to open the many doors that have been set in my path.”