Learning disabilities and high school academic struggles haven’t stopped Carolina Martinez, a culinary student at Ivy Tech Community College’s Lake County campus, from earning awards in her field or from making history at the campus.

Martinez, of Merrillville, recently was named Student Culinarian of the Year by the American Culinary Federation Chefs of NWI, Inc., taking home $300 and a new chef’s jacket, a medallion and chef’s patches, as well as $250 and a plaque for her activities with the organization.

“Winning this award means so much to me,” Martinez said.  “I would have never thought that I would win something so amazing. I am truly honored to have been nominated and win.”

“I always struggled in school due to my learning disabilities,” said Martinez, who dropped out of high school and made several unsuccessful attempts to earn her GED. “I have worked in the culinary industry for years. After my daughter was born, I knew that I needed to be an example for her. I could not tell her to finish school if I never did.

“I enrolled in the Goodwill adult education program at the Excel Center in Hammond and thought I would not make it. For the first time, I was open about my disability. I received so much support and I leaned so much. Along the way, there was a mandatory college fair. I met Chef Elida (Abeyta, Hospitality program chair at Ivy Tech) and she was so excited to talk about the program. I had never even considered college.”

Now, she is on track to graduate in May with honors, wants to gain more experience as a chef and hopefully open a small business. Upon graduation, she will have the opportunity to apply for the professional titles of Certified Pastry Chef and Certified Culinarian through the national ACF organization. Martinez would be the first Ivy Tech Lake County student to receive those two titles, according to Abeyta.

“Carolina’s love of cooking and baking shows through her work,” Abeyta said. “She has volunteered at the Meals on Wheels Gala, shown seniors how to prepare healthy meals and worked with future chefs from the Hammond Career Center. Any student that is struggling, Carolina is ready to help them. She is a model student.”


About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.