A ‘good kick in the butt’ led Ronald Epping to an EICC Culinary Arts degree

Words sparked action, and what followed for Ronald Epping was a great achievement and a great example for his children.

Epping graduated from Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) in May 2023, crossing the stage during the commencement ceremony at the Scott Community College (SCC) campus. The honor student earned an AAS in Culinary Arts, 20 years after he walked out of high school with no plans to ever enter a classroom again.

Until his son called him out on it. “My oldest wanted to drop out of school at the age of 12, and he's like, ‘You did it.’ And that was a good a good kick in the butt to get back into school and prove to him I could do it," Epping said.

“To me, this degree means I am showing my children that no matter what life throws at you, you got to keep getting up and keep moving forward,” he said.  

A single parent, Epping earned his degree while raising and running his three kids to and from appointments and activities, working full-time, and juggling his classes at SCC. “It was stressful, but like I tell everybody, God only gives you what you can handle,” he said.

Epping initially enrolled at EICC with plans to earn a degree in business management. Then a member of the TRIO staff encouraged him to follow his passion instead. “I was talking to her about how I loved cooking and she persuaded me to switch over to the culinary program. And two years later, here I am,” he said.

TRIO provides an array of services to help students like Epping achieve their goals. “They were always there to help push me in the right direction,” he said, adding the staff did everything from asking him about homework to making sure he had access to a computer.

“If I needed somebody on lean on or talk to – with TRIO it feels like you’re just part of a big family when you walk in. Everyone knows your name, even the other students, and they help you navigate everything,” he said.

Epping said the culinary instructors were excellent and provided a lot of positive feedback. “They also taught me that sometimes you have to take criticism, even if you don’t want to hear what other people have to say,” he said, adding that it helped him improve.

They also encouraged him to be creative. “They start with a demonstration at the beginning of each class. We sit up in the front for 15, 20, 40 minutes, depending on how long the demonstration is, and then we go and reproduce what they have done. And then we get to throw our own little flare into it, make it our own style,” he said.

 “I’ve loved cooking all my life,” Epping said, adding he wants to get some experience under his belt before taking his next big step. “What I want to do eventually is open up my own restaurant, and my daughter said she wants to go to school to be a baker. So I would bring her in and we would have the fresh baked goods every day while I'm doing all the cooking,” he said.

Epping credits his kids for keeping him going. “I'd have to say they were my biggest support system,” he said. “There were times I was just like, ‘You know what? I've had enough,’” but this time he didn’t walk away from EICC or his dream.  

“I've been a single dad going on 10 years, so it's like I need to kick myself in the butt and show my kids that if you keep working toward your goals, you can achieve anything,” he said.