Local Business Supports OSUIT Internship with Culinary Opportunity

Local Business Supports OSUIT Internship with Culinary Opportunity

Local Business Supports OSUIT Internship with Culinary Opportunity

When John Neal, Jr., owner of Neal’s Furniture in Okmulgee, sought to hire a new full-time cook, he looked to community support. He found the OSU Institute of Technology’s Culinary Arts program as an innovative approach to support the local university’s internship program while providing a tasty and nutritious option for his employees.

“Partnering with OSUIT and the internship program has taken our healthy food initiative to the next level as the quality of the meals and professionalism of a trained cook has been a great addition to our program,” said Neal.

Annarita Deere, a Culinary Arts student at OSUIT, said this internship experience has helped her grow as a professional in the culinary industry and is developing the skills needed to run her own business someday.

“With this opportunity, I’ve been able to experiment with food ideas and show my creativity,” said Annarita. “This is a great experience because I work best alone in the kitchen, and the workspace was perfect for me. It felt just like home.”

Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Deere moved to Okmulgee and attended OSUIT’s Adult Basic Education program. Upon receiving her GED, she immediately enrolled in the Culinary Arts program.

Deere said she appreciates the faculty and the culinary department for making her college experience feel less lonely while being away from family and friends back home.

“I love OSUIT and the entire campus and staff,” she said. “This is a good hands-on college, and everyone is so helpful and caring. I would recommend this college to anyone."

Neal's furniture has been serving food options to its employees for more than two years. Neal said he believes serving healthy and delicious food to his employees, at no cost to them, promotes a family atmosphere, a healthy lifestyle and improves work efficiency. To accomplish this, they remodeled and expanded the break room into a full kitchen capable of preparing meals for up to 30 team members daily. 

“We believe in the psychological benefits of breaking bread with friends and family. We’ve hammered this belief home during her onboarding process,” said Neal. “Annarita has been a great addition to the team. We have not placed many restrictions on her creativity with the meal selections and just wanted to give her free rein.” 

This has turned out to be a wise decision. Neal said her family-style selections are a big hit around the office. Some of the most popular meals include her homemade lasagna, pork chops, Navajo tacos and Mexican casseroles. 

Neal said her ability to pair all the meals with healthy complementary sides, salad and fruit options have been a welcomed addition to every lunch. 

“Having an OSUIT Culinary Arts student preparing our meals in professional kitchen attire alone adds a certain level of dedication to our initiative,” said Neal. “It portrays to our team that we are serious about their health and happiness at work.”

During the summer semester, many students like Deere are away from campus and working on their internship program. Both OSUIT and small businesses agree that a strong internship program creates beneficial relationships between organizations and talent that encourage both economic and personal growth.

"These internships are crucial to the student's success by not only introducing them to the industry's standard for performance but also allowing them to form relationships with fellow peers and mentors that will open countless doors for them," said Dr. Lisa Weis, dean of the School of Arts, Sciences & Health at OSUIT.

This collaboration is a significant benefit for both small businesses and the community. Neal said he believes partnerships such as this help solidify the importance of the business-to-business relationship when goals are properly aligned.

“Community support is a wonderful approach to developing these relationships,” said Dr. Weis. “We are fortunate to have local businesses like Neal's Furniture, who take the initiative to give our students a platform for success."

Neal believes community ties are the very things that make Okmulgee unique.

“For a small-town, multigenerational furniture store to partner with a prestigious college such as OSUIT, and be mutually beneficial, it enhances so many aspects of what a great community strives to be,” said Neal. “We are very proud to have OSUIT in our hometown and are always grateful when the opportunity to collaborate presents itself.”