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Student of the Month

December Student of the Month: Holly Ervin

By December 15, 2019January 9th, 2020No Comments

What is your background?: At 44, a mother of 2, with a husband of nearly 25 years this farm girl from Alburnett is reinventing herself! I attended Mt. Mercy College where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English-mostly because I enjoyed nearly every course I took. Entering into my senior year, I routed myself toward the department where the majority of my credit hours landed. The world outside college was wide open for me-I had no specified field calling me to a life-long career. There were wonderful occupations along the way-from the healthcare field to corporate America. I lived in this lane for 20 years, perfectly happy. Some people have the luxury of stepping into the career they always imagined immediately after college. I wasn’t one of those people. Happiness was found volunteering in my children’s schools, serving as a Cub Scout leader, teaching at our church’s Kid’s Club, helping other families by volunteering in the HACAP Food Reservoir and eventually, working for the Cedar Rapids School District as a substitute health secretary. Looking back at my work history, the closest I came to having any career focus was taking care of other people’s needs. I know I have a great education and experiences beyond measure, but never did I feel a calling to any specific field… until now.

What brought you to Kirkwood and why?: Nailing down a dream job is a difficult accomplishment, as my background can attest. Dreams are made of magic-where in the world does an adult find magic? For me, I have to do a little day-dreaming (nice segway, eh?) and reminisce. Growing up, my mom decorated cakes as an alternate income, but moreover as a creative outlet for the hectic three-kid, farm life she lived. She would build amazing cakes that made people really happy. I especially celebrated in the fact that I always had the best birthday cakes out of all my friends! As my family grew, this was a memory I wanted to gift to my children, extended family and friends. Mostly self-taught, I started making birthday, anniversary, wedding and graduation cakes for family and friends-usually giving them as gifts. Through a thoughtful how-to gift from a friend, I also discovered I LOVE to make cheesecakes. Well, not just make them, but create them. Building on flavors I love, and anticipating what others enjoy, I’ve created and adjusted recipes to fit about any desire or even dietary restriction. I’ve taken this a step further and have donated my cheesecakes to various charities as an auction item rewarding the winner with quarterly cheesecakes-whatever flavor of their liking. Whether cake, cheesecake or cake pops, my creations regularly drew the reaction from others, “You really should do this for a living.” And, each time I replied, “I’m self-taught. I don’t know enough about baking to get into the business.” Finally, out appreciation of my abilities (or being painfully tired of hearing me push this idea aside) a close friend suggested that I apply to the Baking and Pastry program at Kirkwood. Looking back, it seems like a no-brainer, but without her suggestion I would have probably been too scared to do so. So, here I am at Kirkwood, trying to run down a dream and turn it into a life-long career. It’s baffling to me that all this time, I didn’t give my self-taught talents enough leverage to push me into this amazing program earlier.

What is your program of study and what interests you about it?: I am currently in the Baking and Pastry program. I entered into this program hoping to learn the business aspects of running a bakery and the science behind the glory of baked goods. I knew nothing of bread making and most pastries. It was terrifying stepping into a world that so many people thought I would be successful in knowing how little I truly knew of it. Add to that, the youth of today enter into these fields knowing more than ever thanks to YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram posts introducing them to all the new trends. My trepidation quickly turned into enthusiasm as we entered into lab work. I have discovered my affinity to making pastry cream and that I LOVE getting my hands into dough! My instructors have fostered a true community of learners here at Kirkwood. While they may not even realize, I appreciate the patience my classmates have had with the “old lady in class/mom” and I value the many perspectives around me. It’s also a wonderful feeling to share my experiences, both in my baking life and dare I say it, worldly wisdom. My father always imparted that we learn something from everyone we meet and even bad experiences gain us positive insight. While bad experiences have been minor thus far (Oh man, I forgot to add the extra yeast), I believe my dad’s words to be true and I hope I reflect that onto others. If only there were more hours in the day and weeks in this program. The bakery program here is a treasure trove of knowledge and I am the sponge being fed daily-and I love it! Reality is that I will not be an expert when I leave this program, who could ever say that? I do know that I am being taught the basic building blocks of baking and why it all works in a very meaningful way. And wow, I just realized that I haven’t even discussed how my decorating skills have markedly improved since starting this program. It just seems that each day brings new glitter to my dreams and new avenues in this baking and pastry world to explore. I really don’t want it to end.

Are you involved in anything else on campus? If so, what and why?: Unfortunately, my hectic life outside of school has kept me from participating in much of the campus life. I’ve been to a few introductory events, but have allowed my schooling and family commitments to override this area of my day.

Are you involved in anything off of campus?: Yes, I definitely am. My two wonderful children are incredibly active children. Through their many activities, I have chosen to volunteer wherever needed-theatre, show choir, football, baseball, church-I’ve done it all and am most likely doing it now! Needless to say, I’m also an avid cheerleader for these boys!

We are members at the Alburnett Christian Church where I clean weekly with my mom and sister. Our family greatly enjoys participating in church activities throughout the year.

While I haven’t been able to participate as much this last Fall, I have served on the Board and as Education Committee Chair with Playtime Poppy Children’s Theatre of Cedar Rapids. My favorite experiences here have been with the high school student-lead “Operation Backstage!” field trip where local third graders get to see all the behind the scenes workings of a Playtime Poppy production. Children are great at catching the “spark” of enthusiasm in learning something new. I hope to continue to volunteer with this group for years to come.

I’ve also enjoyed serving as co-chair of the annual Elmcrest Country Club Tennis Pro-Am benefiting our local chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). I’ve been in the co-chair position for the last three years and volunteered in the planning and execution of the event in prior years. This event is a wonderful way to combine a passion of mine, tennis, with a wonderful organization doing so much for the health of our youth. We successfully raise thousands of dollars annually with this three-day event.

What do you do for fun?: I LOVE tennis and play on several teams in the area. I also enjoy fishing with the family, gardening, traveling (wish I could do more of that, probably a curse of being perpetually curious) and spending time with family and friends. We are also avid Cardinals baseball fans-Go Cards!

Where do you see yourself in five years?: I firmly believe what I always thought was a hobby for me is now my calling. I don’t feel that after this program I will ever be happy with just baking in my off-time. This gift or epiphany, whatever you call it, has caused me to rethink my plans entirely. This is my springboard into the bakery world. In fact, I am currently building my business plan. I know I have a lot more to learn, but through this program am committing to doing so. The next semester will be invaluable to me as my coursework will be focusing on the numbers and the business acumen I will need to create my business while learning new skills in professional production. It excites me to think that in five years (well, less than that), you will be rereading the answers to my questions while noshing on brioche inside my shop!