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NECC Student Accepted into the Culinary Institute of America

Submitted by on August 4, 2021 – 7:10 pm

Haverhill and Lawrence, MA (August 4, 2021) – Timing is everything when it comes to cooking. That’s especially true for Lawrence’s Mercedes Rodriguez- both in the kitchen and in life. The Northern Essex Culinary Arts Certificate student was just accepted to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where she will begin classes this fall.

image of culinary student Mercedes Rodriguez in chef's coat and apron, standing hands on hip smiling at the camera

Culinary Arts Certificate Program student Mercedes Rodriguez at NECC’s Lupoli Family Culinary Institute, Haverhill

After graduating from Whittier Tech in 2014 in Graphic Communications, Rodriguez wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. So, she started working in restaurants. “I came in as a server. I would just watch things happen. I remember thinking this is a great job as 19-year-old.” Eventually she realized she preferred being in the kitchen. She had just learned about the new The Lupoli Family Culinary Arts Institute at Northern Essex, when her restaurant suddenly closed due to the pandemic. “Literally, I lost my job in March, and the program started in September.”

Rodriguez took that as a sign, and enrolled in the brand new Culinary Arts Certificate program. She first heard about the Culinary Institute of America through NECC Culinary program manager Chef Denis Boucher, who is an alum of the Hyde Park, NY school. She decided to apply after the CIA sent her a voucher to cover the $100 application fee. For the required essay, she wrote about her grandmother, who emigrated  to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1960’s. She settled in Lawrence and ran a Cuban food truck, which was a novel idea at the time. “It was all Italians, she used to be the only Cuban woman.”

Rodriguez found out she was accepted into the CIA in June, just days before her 25th birthday. She credits her teachers at NECC for helping her achieve this goal. “The teachers are the biggest resource. All you have to do is ask. I bother them all day with questions.” Rodriguez will join the Associate Program in Baking and Pastry this September. The program takes two years to complete; she is working with counselors at both NECC and the CIA to transfer some of her credits.

As a vegan and a bread-lover, she thinks that one day she might open a vegan bakery. But for now, she’s focused on getting ready to live away from home for the first time. “This is the best school in the world, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do my own thing. I swear I was never ready- and then it all happened at once.”

The Lupoli Family Culinary Arts Institute occupies two floors in The Heights, a newly built 10-story luxury building on Merrimack Street with views of the Merrimack River. The space includes classrooms, laboratories, and state-of-the-art kitchens and offers noncredit community courses as well as credit programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management.

To learn more, contact Sandy Zappala,

To learn more about credit programs, contact Denis Boucher,


Northern Essex Community College has campuses in both Haverhill and Lawrence. It offers approximately 60 associate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of noncredit courses designed for personal enrichment and career growth.  Each year, 6,000 students are enrolled in credit associate degree and certificate programs on the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses; and another 2,000 take noncredit workforce development and community education classes on campus, and at businesses and community sites across the Merrimack Valley.  For more information, visit the website at or call 978-556-3700.