VIDEO: Jeffrey Sherman returned to Fort Vancouver High School’s Culinary Arts program with his colleagues to teach students about coffee aroma and taste. He also demonstrated an important lesson about working with people of all abilities.

Jeffrey Sherman never cared for coffee when he was in high school. But preparing for the SkillsUSA competition required early morning practice sessions at Fort Vancouver High School, where he participated in the culinary arts program.

The teen arrived at school cranky. It wasn’t long before he discovered the mood-lifting powers of a hot cup of joe.

That was the start of an interest that would come to invigorate his professional life. However, Sherman always had a taste for the food world. When he and his family moved to Washington his junior year, the half-day culinary program was a natural fit. He began splitting his time between Fort and his neighborhood high school, Skyview.

The culinary program “felt like a home,” Sherman remembers.

Teacher Rebecca Angell recalls a confident, fun student. Sherman became “a good part of the family that we have built here in this program,” says Angell. Sherman forged friendships that he still maintains and became involved in extracurricular activities. He won gold medals for public speaking and job skills at the 2009 SkillsUSA state competition.

Under Angell’s guidance, Sherman and his peers baked extravagant gingerbread works of art including a scale model of the former Vancouver Carnegie Library and a giant yacht. The creations were used in fundraisers that benefited Clark College’s culinary scholarships.

Sherman embraced the discipline and demands of cooking. “Math was not my thing. Science was not my thing. I love to work with my hands, so that was something that immediately appealed to me,” he says.

The lessons resonated with him, but none more so than the organizational concepts of cooking such as mise en place—preparing and arranging tools and ingredients to make the process go more smoothly.

“You can look around and see how well-organized the entire kitchen [classroom] is,” Sherman says. “That’s the philosophy taught there, around organization being a tool for success in every single field. It’s something I still carry with me to this day in my personal life, my career, my relationships with people.”

After his 2010 high school graduation, Sherman held several positions at food-industry companies including Burgerville. He earned a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing and supply chain management from Western Washington University.

Last fall his family acquired Portland-based Happy Cup, a coffee roasting company. Sherman serves as the operations and sales manager. He’s proud of the company’s mission to employ adults with disabilities. Approximately 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed. Those who do work often are underemployed. At Happy Cup, these professionals build job skills through their work in every aspect of operations including production, marketing and customer service.

Sherman returned to Fort last fall with some of his Happy Cup colleagues. Over samples of the company’s roasts, the school’s culinary and life skills students learned the process of evaluating flavor and aroma. Echoing Sherman’s experience a decade earlier, it was a revelation for some who didn’t like the taste. For the teachers, it was a happy reunion as well as an affirmation.

“We know not all our students will go into being a chef, but the industry has a lot of facets. … We’re really happy for what he’s done in his career,” said Angell.

Being back in Fort’s kitchen classroom felt like going home. Said Sherman, “This place totally has my heart.”