July 9th, 2019

CIA Students Hit the Trifecta: Three National Gold Medals


CIA students win at SkillsUSA Championship

In the city that hosts the Kentucky Derby, a trio of CIA students participated in a national skills competition…and they hit the trifecta, as each won their respective category and came home with gold medals!

At the national SkillsUSA competition in Louisville, KY in late June, CIA junior Nora Engelken of Fairway, KS was the winner among postsecondary students in Culinary Arts; sophomore Karam Lee of Salt Lake City, UT took top honors in the Commercial Baking category; and sophomore Jerry Zheng of Rego Park, NY made it a clean sweep by winning the Restaurant Service category.

“For this competition, I had to do a lot of repetition to get faster at what I do and to be more consistent,” said the 21-year-old Lee, who earned her spot in the nationals by winning the New York State competition in March. “The discipline and mindset that it required strengthened me mentally and physically, and winning helped build my self-confidence. I was also able to connect with so many people. It was really great networking.”

Winning the SkillsUSA competition is undoubtedly a resume enhancer that will get Lee, Engelken, Zheng, and other successful CIA students noticed as they set out to begin their careers in the food world. CIA students have now won 13 gold medals at the national competition since 2006 and almost two dozen golds at the New York State level during the same period.

Those results are another example confirming that The Culinary Institute of America provides the best culinary, baking & pastry, and hospitality education in the country.

CIA students and chef-instructors at the SkillsUSA championship.
From left to right: sophomore Karam Lee; chef Didier Berlioz; junior Nora Engelken; senior Julia Spondike; sophomore Jerry Zheng; and chef Lance Nitahara.

“Competing in SkillsUSA is a valuable addition to our students’ education,” says CIA professor and SkillsUSA advisor Ezra Eichelberger. “Competition requires concentration, commitment, and focus. With the plethora of distractions in today’s world, students participating in SkillsUSA hone their skills through this focus toward an achievable goal.”

And the competing isn’t yet over for this summer for CIA students. Senior Julia Spondike of Lorain, OH is representing the United States at the WorldSkills event in Kazan, Russia in August. She won a two-day cook-off last year to become the American representative competing in Culinary Arts and has been practicing for this global competition ever since.

The students trained for SkillsUSA under Professor Eichelberger and fellow CIA faculty members Lance Nitahara and Didier Berlioz. Chef Nitahara is a CIA graduate who won several culinary competitions as a student.

SkillsUSA is the national organization for students in trade, industrial, technical and health occupations education. It sponsors the SkillsUSA Championships in more than 100 fields to recognize the achievements of career and technical education students and to encourage them to strive for excellence and pride in their chosen occupations.