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National Restaurant Association - Aiming to bring world together with food

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Aiming to bring world together with food

When Nya Koang attended Northeast High School in Lincoln, Neb., she thought she'd choose a career in social work, geography or math. After enrolling in her school’s ProStart program, she knew she’d found her true calling.
“I don’t think I’d be in the culinary arts today without ProStart,” says Koang, who attends Southeast Community College in Lincoln. “It gave me the chance not only to express myself, but also led me to meet people who will be my friends for life.” 
ProStart taught Koang to deal with the unexpected. During her first competition, a team member got sick and didn’t show up. She and her other teammate quickly figured out how to compete as a duo instead of a trio. She also demonstrated her adaptability at a Taste of Nebraska event. As part of the fundraising activities, coordinator Beth Haas needed a speaker to tell attendees about the ProStart program. She called on Koang, who delivered a short speech with 15 minutes to prepare. That helped raised $1,500 in five minutes for the Nebraska Restaurant Association Education Foundation
A recipient of ProStart’s Leadership Medal, Koang judged regional ProStart competitions, providing competitors with tips and information to improve their skills. 
“I love being able to help, and the kids are very respectful. When you tell them they did something wrong, they thank you." When students ask her questions, she knows they're looking at food careers.
Food has always been important to Koang, who was born in Sudan and lived there until she was 6. She remembers being enthralled when villagers brought home-baked bread to festivals, starting her fascination with and love of food.
“Now I want to learn everything I can about food. I want to cook it, and go to other countries and learn even more.”
With one quarter left at school, she thanks her instructors, including SCC’s Gerrine Kirby, who supported and encouraged her to try new things, such as ProStart judging. After graduation she plans to travel and, eventually, open her own restaurant.
“Food is universal,” she says. “You can connect people around the world with it.”
Find out more about National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation training programs. Visit America Works Here to find out about career opportunities.
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