Alumni Newsletter

Keeping our Alumni informed of Atlantic Cape activities

ACCC Awards 528 Degrees at Commencement Ceremony

ACCC awarded 528 associate in arts, associate in applied science and associate in science degrees at the school’s 39th annual commencement May 25. Albert L. Gutierrez, president and chief executive officer of Shore Memorial Hospital, delivered the keynote address.

Curtis Odom

Capt. Curtis B. Odom receives an honorary degree from ACCC President Peter Mora.

Capt. Curtis B. Odom, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, received an honorary associate in science degree from the college. Odom is a proponent of higher education, providing space on the base for ACCC satellite classes and encouraging his employees to take college classes.

The Lindback Distinguished Teaching Excellence Award was presented to Effie Russell of Ocean City, professor of English. The Adjunct Teaching Excellence Award was presented to Thomas Innocente of Somers Point, senior adjunct, criminal justice.

High Honors student Jamie Bird of Linwood, who achieved a perfect 4.0 average, delivered the Class Farewell. Bird, age 27, received an Associate in Science degree in General Studies. She plans to continue her education at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where she will major in literature with an elementary education track. She hopes to own and operate her own pre-school when she completes her education.

Cristie Ricciotti of Atlantic City was elected by the student body to serve as student representative to the college’s Board of Trustees, it was announced. She earned an Associate in Science degree in General Studies and plans to transfer to a four-year school.

Student Government President Adam Hill of Galloway told the students, “Every single one of you has taken a huge leap to better yourself, your life, and your education by attending classes and committing yourself to years of learning. But your education and learning in life does not end here.”

Brian Lefke, chairperson of ACCC’s Board of Trustees, conferred the degrees and presented them to the graduates.

Graduation Stories

Mother, Son International Students Graduate ACCC

Mother and son Evalis and Erick Rodriguez never expected they would earn degrees from an American college, and the Venezuelan natives certainly never thought they would graduate together.

But Evalis, 47, and Erick, 21, both of Galloway, received their associate degrees from ACCC at the college’s commencement ceremony May 25.


Mother and son Evalis and Erick Rodriguez receive their diplomas at ACCC's graduation ceremony.

Evalis has a degree in architecture from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, however after moving to New Jersey in 2001, she immediately enrolled in English as a Second Language classes at ACCC. She completed all levels of ESL courses and motivated Erick to join her to complete his ESL studies and the first stage of his college education.

Evalis received an Associate in Science degree in Social Work, and Erick received an Associate in Science in Computer Information Systems. Evalis will return to ACCC this fall for a few additional classes, while Erick has already transferred to the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.

During four years of classes at ACCC, the mother and son have only shared one class-geography. Both received an A, but Erick is quick to point out he bested his mother by a few points. The greatest part about sharing a class—only having to buy one book, both said.

Mother, Son to Receive ACCC Diplomas Together

After putting her education on hold repeatedly to take care of her family, Charita McClain, Blackwood, graduated from ACCC with an Associate in Applied Science degree in Office Systems Technology May 25. What made her walk to the stage to receive her diploma even sweeter was sharing the moment with her son, Anthony Booker, who earned his Associate in Arts in Liberal Arts.

McClain, an administrative secretary in ACCC’s human resources department, took her first course in 1991. Her son, family illness and other hurdles prevented school from becoming a priority.

“It wasn’t until Anthony graduated from high school and became a student here at ACCC in 2003 that I began buckling down and taking classes two and three at a time,” McClain said. “I started pacing myself. I always wanted to graduate, and I thought that my son would graduate before I did at the rate I was going.”

That meant taking classes during winter and summer sessions in addition to the spring and fall semesters, taking classes in person and online, and even keeping up with school one semester while spending weeks at home recuperating from surgery.

“When he walked, I wanted to walk. I knew if I worked really hard, I could do it,” McClain said.

At times, McClain and Booker would turn their house into their version of a college dorm, with books everywhere, the computer on all hours of the night while one or both of them was trying to finish a report or taking classes online.

McClain said the years of work were worth it. Booker will continue his education at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.

Mays Landing Resident Sidelined by Car Accident Finishes Degree

Dawn Murphy left high school at age 16, and nearly a decade passed before she decided it was time to return to the classroom.

A Mays Landing resident, Murphy stopped by ACCC’s main campus one day to see what her options were. Three weeks later she passed the GED exam, and before she knew it she was a college student.

Murphy enrolled at ACCC in the spring of 2003. She was more than halfway done with her degree in general studies when a car accident in November 2004 derailed her plans.

“It was right before finals and I had a serious concussion. I felt so overwhelmed. I couldn’t remember things, I forgot where I lived,” Murphy said. “I was encouraged by the doctors to withdraw from my classes, but I’m stubborn and took my finals.”

Murphy did sit out the spring semester and returned to ACCC last fall. She has since completed the requirements for a degree in general studies, even while working full-time as a preschool teacher. Murphy will transfer to the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey this fall, and she plans to pursue a degree in education. Ultimately, Murphy wants to work with children with special needs.

Now 28, Murphy said she is 100 percent recovered from her traumatic accident and is ready to begin the next phase of her education.

Cape May County Resident Ready for Nursing Career

Charles R. Lukens was working for a general construction firm and a real estate agent when he decided he wanted a career that would keep him fulfilled until retirement.

Lukens heard there was a nursing shortage and enrolled in ACCC’s nursing program in 2004. On May 25, he received his Associate in Applied Science degree in Nursing after two years of attending classes full-time while working.

At age 62, the Sea Isle City resident also has the distinction of being this year’s oldest graduate.

Lukens said his experience at ACCC has been very rewarding and he is currently looking for a position in his new field.

ACCC Introduces Four New Degree Programs

Starting this fall, ACCC students will have four new degree programs to choose from when selecting a major.

ACCC will now offer two-year degrees in communication, cultural studies, digital design and technical studies.

Students pursuing the communication option will take courses to prepare for work in the communication industry, including newspapers, radio, television, magazines, public relations and advertising. Students will choose from a journalism or creative writing track.

A degree in cultural studies provides students a well-rounded liberal arts background with training in how to think, especially in diverse cultural environments. It is the gateway to many other disciplines and careers, including teaching, research, business and more.

The digital design degree option emphasizes the exploration of the concepts and techniques related to graphic design, Web design and fine arts skills. Students will develop a portfolio in preparation for transfer to a four-year institution or art school.

ACCC’s Board of Trustees has approved an option in technical studies for students who have completed the 375-hour Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer continuing education course and have passed the MCSE certification exam.

For more information on these or any of ACCC’s other degree programs, visit

Alumni Updates

Mouths were watering among Philadelphia area culinary connoisseurs. Thanks to The Book and The Cook Café Society and DiBruno Bros., Chef Michael Schlow, ACA ’87, of Boston’s “hot and happening” Radius, Great Bay and Via Matta restaurants, brought his award-winning cuisine to Philly in March. The Caffe Society event included a cooking demonstration, multi-course service, complimentary wines, signed cookbooks, and more.

Evelyn Benton (nee Burkett), ACA ’89, manager of the Southern Branch of the Community FoodBank of NJ, was among this year’s inductees into the Atlantic County Women’s Hall of Fame. Writing in the FoodBank’s newsletter, “Food For Thought,” Benton said, “Anyone who is familiar with this wonderful group of women can probably imagine how thrilled and humbled I am.”

Alumni updates

ACA alumna, Melinda Dorn, ’96, was named the 2006 Montana Chef’s Association Chef of the Year. The 31-year old New Jersey native nearly didn’t make her April 4 coronation banquet. She asked her boss to accept the accolade while she carried on teaching her two-night class in making truffles, but she arrived in time to take a bow. In addition to the ACA, Dorn studied at the DCT International Hotel and Culinary Arts School in Lucerne, Switzerland. She is chef at Creative Catering in Missoula, Mont. Last year she won a gold medal in the Big Sky, Mont., competition for cooking with Montana food products.

Kathryn A. Sappie, ’89, AAS (PTA), of Little Egg Harbor, was awarded the Wachovia Foundation Scholarship at Thomas Edison State College where she’s going for her bachelor’s degree in psychology. “I have always wanted to get my bachelor’s and pursue my passion, which is to teach children,” she told the Tuckerton Beacon. The scholarship is funded by Wachovia Corp. and is awarded to Edison College students who earned associate degrees at a New Jersey community college.

Culinary school sweethearts Mark Rowand and Ann Hilbert, both ’95, met at the ACA, got married and recently bought the Emerald Fish on Route 70 East in Cherry Hill. Mark helped run the place in its first five years, then left because he didn’t want to work on Sundays, although Ann stayed on. According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the first thing the Rowands did when they took over the seafood establishment: close on Sundays. Emerald Fish recently received a great review from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Patricia Nash, ’97 ACA, was appointed American Culinary Federation National Culinary Team pastry chef. ACF Culinary Team USA represents the United States in all major international culinary competitions. Nash was selected for the team based on her performance in the same role at the 2004 culinary Olympics.

Mike Stollenwerk, ’99 ACA, is the new executive chef at Swedes Inn in Swedesboro after stints in restaurants in Cape May, Avalon, Philadelphia and Gloucester County.

ACCC Offers Culinary Workshop in June

A culinary workshop centered on preparing summer meals for outdoor living is scheduled for June in the training kitchens of ACCC’s Academy of Culinary Arts.

“Hot & Cold Hors d’Oeuvres 101,” an introduction to making simple appetizers for that gathering on the patio, is scheduled for 6-9 p.m., Wednesday, June 28. Participants will learn to prepare tasty starters like chicken quesadillas and spring rolls from leftovers and how to dress up ordinary items with sauces and condiments.

The fee for the workshop is $49. To register, or for additional information, call (609) 343-4829 or (609) 463-4774, ext. 4829, or visit

Register Now for ACCC’s Summer Kids College

Give your child a summer of fresh, fun experiences at ACCC’s annual Kids College. ACCC is now accepting registrations for Kids College workshops for youth ages 5 to 15.

ACCC will offer dozens of weeklong classes July 10 through Aug. 18 at its campuses in Mays Landing, Atlantic City and Cape May Court House.

Encourage your children to learn more about their favorite interests or explore new ones in workshops including: Reading and Rhyming with Dr. Seuss, Mad Scientist and Theater Fun and Games. Other favorites include acting classes, cooking lessons, computer camps and art workshops.

Kids College classes meet Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-noon or 1-4 p.m. Kids College faculty includes college instructors, certified teachers and staffers of educational workshops for children, all of them skilled at making learning fun and interesting.

Parents can call ACCC at (609) 625-1111, ext. 4829, for a brochure with complete descriptions of classes, camps, fees and family discounts, or visit

Register Now for Summer, Fall Courses at ACCC

Registration for ACCC’s summer sessions and the fall semester is under way.

Students can register at the college’s Mays Landing Campus, 5100 Black Horse Pike; the Charles D. Worthington Atlantic City Center, 1535 Bacharach Blvd.; and the Cape May County Campus, 341 Court House-South Dennis Road, Cape May Court House.

Summer sessions include:

  • Accelerated session two, June 12-28; registration deadline June 8
  • Second session, June 26-Aug. 17; registration deadline June 22
  • Third session, July 10-Aug. 17; registration deadline July 6

Fall classes begin Sept. 5. Final registration is Sept. 1.

Regular registration hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. The college will be closed May 29 and July 4, and on Fridays, June 9 through Aug. 18. Depending on their status as new or returning students, students can register in person, by mail, fax and online at

Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are accepted. For a complete listing of courses, visit ACCC’s or call (609) 343-5000, 625-1111 or 463-4774, ext. 5000, for a free schedule.

ACCC Alum Heads to Ivy League; Reaches Out to Current Students

Miguel Cortes always knew he was a hard worker, but he never considered himself a scholar.

The Puerto Rico native scraped by at Egg Harbor Township High School and put off further education for a decade while he worked as a limo driver and waiter in Atlantic City.

Then something changed. Cortes, now 35, began pursuing his associate’s degree in computer information systems at ACCC, the first of a series of life-changing decisions he would make.

Miguel Cortes

Miguel Cortes

“It was only seven years ago I was working as a waiter with no college education. Now to have the opportunity to attend Princeton University in the fall, it does blow my mind to think about it,” he said.

Cortes earned his associate’s degree in 2002 and transferred to Drexel University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2005. Acceptance into a prestigious training program led Cortes to a job as a technology analyst at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development in Raritan. “I attribute my education and career achievements to ACCC setting a good foundation. There are good faculty members who guided me along,” he said. “In high school I was a so-so student, but I graduated ACCC with a 4.0 GPA and was able to get scholarships to pay for my education.”

It’s through his position at Johnson & Johnson and as a member of ACCC’s Board of Trustees Minority Affairs Committee that Cortes hopes to give students like himself a step up.

“One thing I noticed going to ACCC is that there is not a lot of involvement with major companies because they reach out to students at four-year colleges who are closer to graduating,” Cortes said. To combat that, he founded the Minorities in Science and Technology program to encourage Hispanic and African-American students to pursue careers in these fields where minority representation is low.

Cortes plans to invite 200 New Jersey community college students to Johnson & Johnson this fall for a day of workshops with senior executives. He presented his plan to ACCC’s Minority Affairs Committee this spring and will work with the college to identify about 30 students from here to participate. “It’s something I wish I had the opportunity to do when I was there,” Cortes said.

In addition to starting this outreach program, his job at Johnson & Johnson and lecturing across the country, Cortes plans to begin classes this fall at Princeton University, where he will pursue a master’s degree in engineering.

What I lack in natural ability I make up for in dedication. I really think that is how I've been able to achieve what I have," he said.

That is the message Cortes brings when he speaks about his personal experiences as a guest lecturer at high schools and colleges or with the students he mentors in his local school district.

“The primary motive for the work I do is that someone will hear my story and be motivated,” Cortes said.

Cortes returns to Atlantic County frequently to visit his parents, Pedro and Nora, in Egg Harbor Township, and for charity events like last year’s MS-150, a 100-mile bike ride round-trip from Hammonton to Ocean City to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Dearth of Chefs, Cooks Benefits Culinary Grads

“Help Wanted. Desperately.”

Those words seem to be a mantra among independent, chain and casino restaurateurs up and down the Jersey Shore these days.

Cases in point:

  • The Lyons Group, a Boston-based restaurant group, is scouring the East Coast for 100 new cooks and chefs to staff three new restaurants in Atlantic City.
  • The Borgata is looking to hire about 260 chefs and cooks for its three new restaurants.

And with 30 new fine-dining establishments expected to open in casinos, the shortage of kitchen personnel is becoming critical. According to one Philadelphia consultant to the hospitality industry, the growth in new restaurants is a national phenomenon.

ACA students

The outlook is bright for ACA students. With the addition of dozens of new restaurants in Atlantic City, recent graduates receive three or more job offers each.

That's good news for students at ACCC's Academy of Culinary Arts. Kelly McClay, assistant director, said each of the nearly 60 students who graduated in May had at least three job offers.

Michael F. Balles, 20, of Egg Harbor Township, had four firm job offers, two from top tier casinos, two from regional country clubs. In each case, pay is in the mid-$30s. “That’s pretty good for a guy just coming out of college,” he said.

Christopher Spera, 22, of Bayville, said he has had several offers but is leaving the state after graduation and thus hasn’t been aggressive in seeking out jobs in New Jersey. He has, however, been encouraged by interest shown by the Atlantic City office of a well known hotel chain for a job elsewhere.

According to McClay, casinos usually attend the academy’s spring career fairs, but since last fall, demand for individual recruitment visits has burgeoned. The interest in hiring ACA graduates reflects the value of the academy’s degrees, associate in applied science in culinary arts, baking and pastry, or food service management.

“The first year I was here, recruiters came on a hit or miss basis, now they’re here two or three times a week,” Balles said.

According to a recent report, an assistant chef from the two-year program at ACCC’s culinary school can expect to start at a casino earning from $30,000-$35,000 while vocational school graduates start at about $23,000.

Restaurant Gala Raises $215,000 for ACCC Scholarships

From wild boar tacos to buffalo with Serengeti fruit chutney, the safari-themed 23rd Annual Press of Atlantic City Restaurant Gala was a culinary adventure. The event raised a record-breaking $215,000 for student scholarships at ACCC.

Restaurant Gala

ACA students prepared thousands of hors d'oeuvres for the 23rd Annual Press of Atlantic City Restaurant Gala this spring that raised $215,000 for student scholarships.

Nearly 1,000 people attended the black-tie affair held March 23 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The event included the specialties of 36 of the finest restaurants in Atlantic and Cape May counties and showcased the talents of the culinary students at the ACA, who prepared thousands of sumptuous hot and cold hors d’oeuvres served during cocktail hour. The ACA students and chef educators received a standing ovation from the attendees during the dinner reception. A dessert extravaganza capped off the evening.

For the first time the Restaurant Gala Steering Committee awarded an honorary gold medal from the ACA to Vernon W. Hill II, founder and chairman of Commerce Bank, for his dedication to education and the scholarship event. Commerce Bank has served as presenting sponsor of the Restaurant Gala for eight years.

Annual Appeal Aids ACCC Students

ACCC alumni have the opportunity to assist current students facing financial difficulties by making a contribution to the annual alumni appeal. All donations will provide emergency and supplemental funds for needy ACCC students who can’t afford all of the expenses of school.

More than 100 alumni have donated $4,325 so far in 2006. Those funds have been earmarked to help some of the more than 90 second-year nursing students who are facing stiff increases in their lab fees for the fall semester. The fee increase was necessary because of the extraordinary cost of the nursing program due to tripling the number of seats in response to the regional labor shortage. The ACCC Foundation has also chipped in funds for nursing student grants-in-aid.

Unfortunately, student need for emergency and supplemental aid continues to rise faster than the emergency fund’s ability to respond. You can still make a gift of $25, $35, $50, $100 or other denomination to assist needy ACCC students. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

For information on how to make a donation, call (609) 343-5634 or e-mail

Benefits of Membership

Membership in the ACCC Alumni Association, which is open to all students who have received a degree or completed the culinary arts program, will provide you with meaningful discounts and benefits while keeping you informed about the people, programs and events at your alma mater.

With your membership card you can receive a 10 percent discount at the Follett Bookstore at ACCC’s Mays Landing and Cape May Court House campuses. Alumni can receive a discount on clothing, school and office supplies, calendars, trade and reference books, specialty gifts and clearance items. The discount does not apply to textbooks and food items. To receive the discount, members must show a current ID card. For more information, call the bookstore at (609) 343-5130.

If you’re not already an Alumni Association member, call (609) 343-5616 to join, or visit for more membership information. Annual membership dues are $15; lifetime memberships are $150.