Chef Manny Washington—Orlando Fire Department’s finest chef

“Chef Manny” 11141778_377244982472413_4444921235404832610_nhas been cooking since he was eight. He started with desserts–in fact, the first thing he learned to cook was southern staple sweet potato pie. Next he graduated to sides, and finally to main dishes.

He learned from his grandmother, then his mother and his father, also a firefighter (in Miami).

He’s best known for his appearance on national cooking shows, which he’s been doing for only a year. (Since August, 2015, when he first appeared on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen.) The one thing that scared him the most about competition cooking? Plating. “Firefighters don’t require plating; they just want good tasting food.”

With all this cooking, you’d think he majored in something culinary, but Washington, it turns out, is kind of a science geek. From Valencia, he got an AS in Emergency Medical Services. From there, he went on to UCF, where he got a BS in Chemistry Education, with a minor in Emergency Management. “My favorite class was Organic Chemistry I with Dr. Eric Crumpler (west campus). By far one of the hardest classes I have ever taken, but I love how I get to take an acid naturalization and apply it to work.”

He is an engineer/paramedic with the Orlando Fire Department, stationed at Fire Station 1 (downtown). mc7_706-16-15-lobsterelim_0313_hires2He works on the Hazardous Materials team, which works with everything from gas spills to weapons of mass destruction.

How does he balance his career as a firefighter with this new “career” as a part time gourmet chef? Due to their schedule (24 hours on, 48 off) he has the time to do live food demos, private dinners, and even cook for other fire stations nationwide. His favorite thing to cook is skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, white rice, black beans and caramelized plantains. Did we mention he’s from Miami?

You can follow Chef Manny at @chefmannyfd on Facebook, Instagram, Twittter and YouTube.

 

 

Laura Sessions–professor of chemistry

Our latest in our series about endowed chairs at Valencia this year.

 

“HoDr. Laura Sessionsw can we prepare students for the challenges of STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) careers?” This is the question Professor Laura Sessions asked while creating “meaningful internship experiences” at the Lake Nona campus with her Lockheed Martin Chair in Science this year.

She adds “I am currently interested in improving the learning experience for students in the science laboratory. The Lockheed Martin Chair in Science 2015-16 has allowed me to investigate best practices for training students in research skills and to create an internship program for a first cohort of five students in spring 2016.”

The intent of this program is to help students better understand the process of science, and the mindset and skills required to do research. Students will receive training in key laboratory skills through interaction with faculty members, through the use of tutorials, and, ultimately, by addressing a research question. Students with these skill sets are more likely to find internships in research labs.

Students will be able to attend the Florida Academy of Sciences Conference on March 19-21, 2016 at the University of South Florida, thanks to funding from the Lockheed Martin Chair in Science from the Valencia Foundation.

 

“One student, Shannon Finner, has already been working in the laboratory with me this fall. She is optimizing

Dr. Sessions and Assistantship Student Shannon Finner Discuss an Infrared Spectrum in the Lake Nona Chemistry laboratory, fall 2015.

Dr. Sessions and Assistantship Student Shannon Finner Discuss an Infrared Spectrum in the Lake Nona Chemistry laboratory, fall 2015.

the recrystallization solvent for purifying a Diels-Alder adduct that students make in the Organic Chemistry 1 class at Lake Nona’s campus.”

Dr. Sessions adds, “In the long term, I hope to create a sustainable program for scientific inquiry by students at the Lake Nona campus. I would like to create an interdisciplinary team, bringing together students and faculty from chemistry, biology, and our new biotech program, so that students can experience authentic scientific research and leave Valencia with real world skills.”

Dr. Sessions is professor of chemistry at the Lake Nona campus.  She was born and raised in Winter Park,and attended the University of Florida, obtaining a B.S. in Chemistry with a minor in French. Dr. Sessions then attended Dartmouth College, where she studied organic polymer synthesis and nanoparticles. After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Sessions was very happy to move back to warm, sunny Florida. She taught as an adjunct at Palm Beach Community College (now Palm Beach State College) for three years while performing various duties for the South Florida Science Museum including science educator, grant writer, and, eventually, education director. Dr. Sessions joined the full-time faculty at Valencia College in 2010 and successfully completed the tenure track in 2014.

Dr. Sessions is married to Dr. Hampton Sessions, also a chemist, who studies medicinal chemistry at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in Lake Nona.  They have two adorable children: Evelyn, aged 5 and Henry, aged 3.