Camp Helps Prepare the Next Generation of Top Chefs

Posted: July 1, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: July 3, 2014 at 7:49 am

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By Sudha Kamath

George Mason University junior Nicole Sekel says she feels “incredibly lucky” to have found a job allowing her to combine her passion for nutrition with her love of children. Sekel is the onsite director of the new Empowered Wellness children’s camps launching this summer at George Mason’s Nutrition Kitchen at 3950 University Drive in Old Town Fairfax.


Mason Nutrition and Food students Ayra Correa (left) and Nicole Sekel will put their skills on the table at a wellness cooking camp for children this summer at Mason’s Nutrition Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Empowered Wellness.

“In my opinion, no career beats working with children every day,” says Sekel of the hands-on camps teaching wellness, sustainability, restaurant management and global skills while stirring up the next generation of top chefs and entrepreneurs.

Mason’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies teamed up with Empowered Wellness this summer to create a recipe for success as students, ages six through 13, learn international cooking; time management; journal, menu and recipe writing; business skills; team building; project-based learning; and role play. There’s a “farm to table” focus on healthful foods.

The camps will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 14–18, July 28–Aug. 1 and Aug. 11–15.

“We are quite excited about this collaboration with Empowered Wellness and hope it will offer many more Mason students such significant experiential learning opportunities,” says Lisa Pawloski, chair and professor in Nutrition and Food Studies in the College of Health and Human Services. “This is a great opportunity for Mason to become further involved in the community. We are quite fortunate that we have such a central location at the Nutrition Kitchen and that there is great community interest in child nutrition and food issues.”

Ryan Lonnett, founder of Empowered Wellness, says he’s hired at least eight Mason students to coach summer camps and after-school programs for 2014–15. He says this summer, the coaches will teach the young participants to cook; design restaurant menus and decor; and create a skit in a television commercial format. “We’ll develop some great life skills here but everything we do also has to pass the fun litmus test,” says Lonnett.

Sekel, originally from Arizona and now a Great Falls, Va., resident, is majoring in community health with a concentration in nutrition. During the school year, she worked as a health coach with Empowered Wellness in several local afterschool elementary programs. In March, she also began to help coming up with a plan for the summer camp.

“Had I known anything about nutrition at such a young age, I could have avoided some issues down the road,” says Sekel. “The most enjoyable thing about working with children is exposing them to such an important and fun topic.”

Sekel hopes to become a registered dietician and make a difference in more young lives someday. “It’s really amazing to help children become more knowledgeable about their health than I ever was at their age,“ she says.

Ayra Correa, a senior majoring in community health with a concentration in nutrition, worked with afterschool nutrition classes for first through sixth graders around the area from January through June. Correa says she “really enjoyed every time a parent would tell me how they had to make changes in their house if they were consuming too many processed foods, because the kids wanted healthier choices.” Correa was motivated to coach summer camps. “It was everything I had an interest in—encouraging a healthier future for others and working with children.”

Correa, who was born in Brazil and raised in the United States, says the summer camps provide children with a sense of accomplishment that she hopes will have lasting effects. “They are so proud of their product that they can’t wait to eat it and share it with their families.”

Write to Sudha Kamath at

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