Nikki Heflin was just a child, working alongside Mom in her catering business, when she got her first taste of the food industry.
“I began learning about the food service industry at a young age,” says Heflin, family and consumer sciences (FCS) teacher at Westfield High School in Westfield, Indiana. “I worked for Mom then went on to work in a country club and later a steakhouse.”
Because of her fascination for the food industry, she decided to pursue her undergraduate degree at Purdue University in hospitality and tourism management. But, after graduation, she settled into a sales career, which eventually left her “unfulfilled professionally.” That’s when a school counselor friend suggested that Heflin consider teaching FCS courses so she could share her considerable knowledge of the hospitality and food service industry.
To make that happen, she pursued Purdue’s transition to teaching program and earned her teaching license. That same year, Heflin stepped into a classroom at Westfield. She quickly assumed a leadership role in restructuring the FCS program, which included writing curriculum and adding new culinary and nutrition courses.
But she also wanted to learn more about family and consumer science legislation, policies, funding, and licensure. That’s when she looked into Ball State’s master of arts in career and technical education (CTE), offered fully online.
“Ball State is one of the few schools in the state of Indiana that licenses family and consumer science education and has a strong appreciation and understanding of FCS education,” she says. Heflin is pursuing the FCS track, one of eight degree options offered through the CTE program.
The CTE program helped her realize the importance of hands-on, project-based learning, says Heflin. It also inspired her to connect with members of the food service community to form partnerships.
“We recently had a local butcher come in to teach students how to fabricate a whole chicken eight ways,” says Heflin. “We also took a field trip to a sustainable farm and had lunch made with ingredients directly from the farm.”
Her students have catered homemade recipes to more than 300 people, and Westfield’s chapter of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Foodies Rock, the career and technical student organization for FCS, is doing more than 30 community service events this year.
Heflin says the CTE program gave her the chance to take electives related to her content area of nutrition and the culinary arts. She teaches three nutrition courses at Westfield.
Like most online students, Heflin is finding that the online format is ideal for balancing her career and family life.
“The online delivery of each course encourages interaction with fellow classmates through discussion forums and group projects,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about the other content areas within CTE through working with my fellow classmates.”
Heflin recently became involved in FCS education at the state level, now serving as chair of public policy for the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences-Indiana Affiliate (INAFCS).
Her short list of program goals for Westfield include expansion of the culinary arts and nutrition program, which has a new commercial kitchen classroom, the introduction of FCS dual credit courses, and addition of a food science course to the curriculum. She also plans to create a student-run garden where students can learn about agriculture and use the foods they grow in their recipes in the cooking lab.
“The master of arts in career and technical education program truly helped me achieve so many of the goals I set for the program,” says Heflin.