Brad Hendrickson, second year of the two-year Associate of Applied Arts degree in Culinary Arts at the Art Institute of Seattle I was a fat kid. So I was way into food. I liked eating it...

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Brad Hendrickson, second year of the two-year Associate of Applied Arts degree in Culinary Arts at the Art Institute of Seattle

I was a fat kid. So I was way into food. I liked eating it and I liked watching other people get enjoyment from it. Probably my biggest influence was my grandfather, whose specialty was baked beans. When people ate his beans, they’d break out in smiles and say how good they were, and I thought that was awesome.

In high school, I entered a state cook-off and won first place. I came to the Art Institute from my home in Idaho to compete in a cooking contest and won third place. For that, my prize was getting a quarter of my schooling paid. There are downfalls to going to school here, such as not having as many courses to choose from as a traditional four-year college. But I’m doing what I love.

Grant Mikesh, in second year of a two-year Associate in Applied Science degree program in automotive technology at Green River Community College

My dad’s a car-tool salesman, and when I was little I always begged to go with him to work. I thought tools were fun because I liked tearing apart things (puzzles, radios) and putting them back together.

As I got older, my dad let me work with him on his tool truck or on the family car. But I didn’t actually think I’d work on cars for a living. When I was at Auburn-Riverside High School, I thought I’d go into computer graphics, until a friend asked if I wanted to take an auto-technology class with him. I did so well that my instructor suggested I try for a scholarship to automotive school, and I got it.

I love this program. We’re here four hours a day, working on cars belonging to senior citizens, students and school staff. We don’t start off with oil changes; we do real work: brakes, engines, electrical systems, steering.

I like that this program concentrates on just what I want to do. It’s true that my degree won’t give me much flexibility when I graduate. It’s not like an all-encompassing BA. But (automotive) skills are always in demand.

Benjamin Brown, senior majoring in social science in Washington State University’s Distance Learning Program

I got caught up in the Boeing layoffs after 9/11 and decided to go back to school to finish up my college degree. I live on the Olympic Peninsula, with no four-year college nearby, and commuting on the ferry to class while on a limited income just wasn’t going to work. At the same time, I couldn’t move because we just built a new home and my partner has a good job in this area. So I chose the long-distance degree program at WSU.

It’s so convenient. I view my professors’ lectures on tape, post my papers online and interact with my classmates by e-mail. The taped lectures are a plus. If I miss something that was said, I can just rewind the tape and fill in my notes. On the other hand, if I want to ask a question, I have to e-mail my professor and wait for a reply. But this is a small price to pay for not having to leave the house every day for school.

Cari Westfall, sophomore studying graphic design at the Cornish College of the Arts

I was an awkward, thin, nerdy child with big glasses — and I used art as a way to express myself. When I was at Yelm High School, I knew I wanted to study art in college. I considered a traditional, four-year college, but didn’t want to take a lot of English, math and other requirements unrelated to art. Cornish was my first choice because of its prestige and small classes. I worried about cost ($9,150 for tuition and fees in 2003-04), but I received an $8,400-a-year Gates scholarship. I also worried about missing out on the typical college experience — living in a dorm with a major social life. But it turns out I don’t miss that at all. I really like just concentrating on my art. When I get out, I’d love to design ads for magazines.