“But I really want to be a chef!”

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By Coty Dolores Miranda

Roberta ‘Bobbi” Rodriguez, once an administrative assistant, went back to school and is now an emergency room nurse at Banner Desert Hospital.

Sometimes the need for change comes out of nowhere. You’ll be sitting in your Dilbert-like cubicle at work, involuntarily listening to the inane personal phone conversations of the co-worker just over the divider when the question pops into your head:

“What the heck am I doing here?”

It may or may not be a case of the Midlife Crazies, as Jerry Lee Lewis termed it (and he ought to know), but it could be the impetus for a change for the better, as it was for Registered Nurse Roberta Rodriquez, college professor Larry Celaya, Phoenix police sergeant William DeLaTorre and countless others.

A switch in careers, midlife or otherwise, is not without its challenges and pitfalls, but the benefits of following your passions can make it all worth it.


Executive Chef Jon-Paul Hutchins of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute knows all about midlife career changes, as he meets them every term.

“I have a lot of students who are changing careers, but I don’t have a lot of advising to do as most come here knowing exactly what they’re gettinginto because they’ve had a professional life and they’ve done most of the research before getting here,” says Hutchins. “The only thing we need to advise them on is how you move up the culinary ladder, which can be a little different than the traditional business world, as you tend to move up very quickly. It’s not based on years of service, but what you did last week; if you were really phenomenal, you’ll move up; if you’ve got a really great attitude, you’ll move up. And this is very refreshing because most of them are used to nepotism and the typsical business world, so it gives them an opportunity to shine.”

Celebrating more than 20 years in education, SCI offers bachelor and associate degrees in the Le Cordon Bleu, Patisserie and Baking, Le Cordon Bleu Hospitaliity and Management.

Beatriz Cohen, counseling faculty chair of Rio Salado College has seen the number of re-entry students escalating in recent years. While some are looking to advance in their present job or facing life changes such as single parenthood, a majority are looking for career changes – some answering a lifelong dream put on hold while “real life” happened.

“These students face the challenges and the opportunities that change presents. They need to balance their time to include school in their daily routine.  Most students continue working and managing their personal life – family, children, older parents, etc.,” says the Columbian-born Cohen. She came to the U.S. in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá before earning her master’s in counseling psychology from ASU.

“Some might need to plan for a transition to a new job, which often means earning an entry level salary. Not only do they need the support from the educational institution, but they also need to the support of family and friends in order to achieve their academic goals.”

Deborah Walker, president of Alpha Advantage, Inc. and a nationally-respected career coach with extensive experience as a headhunter and corporate recruiter, hears clients frequently yearn to follow their “dream jobs.” She says some work out, but only with planning and family support.

“The most extreme case was a senior vice president-level corporate executive who shared with me what he really wanted to do was go back to school to earn a teaching certificate and teach elementary school – third grade, in fact. Naturally, this career change would affect every aspect of his life,” said Walker.

“As extreme as his career choice was, he succeeded in obtaining his ‘dream job’ because he followed three important principals in successful career transition: one,  he was financially stable, having saved prudently for many years; two, he was able to downsize his income and lifestyle because his children were grown; and three, his decision was supported by his spouse. Ignoring any one of the above principals can turn a ‘dream job’ into career disaster.”


Roberta Rodriguez has evolved through several careers in her 55 years: administrative assistant to the vice chancellor at Maricopa Community College and South Mountain College, stay-at-home mother to three boys, co-minister of churches in California, Colorado and Arizona, and a missionary with her husband and two younger boys in Venezuela (1995-2000).

“But I always wanted to be a nurse, I just never had the opportunity,” confesses Rodriquez, who is better known as Bobbi. “But I thought, if God opens up that door, I’m going to go right in.”

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