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How CNM Helped this Veteran Find a New Path Forward

CNM, which recently won a 2021 Military Friendly award, is helping Leilani Dixon start a whole new career in culinary arts
How CNM Helped this Veteran Find a New Path Forward

Mar 12, 2021

Leilani Dixon faced a tough decision after finishing her career in the Navy. 

She served in Guam and San Diego as a Master at Arms —a position dedicated to security and law enforcement—and initially thought she wanted to become a police officer. She and her husband made plans to move from San Diego to Albuquerque where she hoped to apply to the Albuquerque Police Department. Unfortunately, Dixon discovered that an injury she sustained while on duty disqualified her from applying. 

After a lot of consideration, Leilani and her husband decided they would still move to New Mexico to start a family and that she would pursue her other passion: cooking. After looking around at training programs, Leilani says she was excited to learn CNM offered a culinary program. 

“Where I’m from in San Diego, community colleges do not have culinary programs, so this was a great opportunity,” she says. Dixon heard great things about the program and quickly enrolled. She plans to graduate after the 2022 Fall term with a dietary management certificate.

Leilani says she’s thrived since coming to CNM. She attributes her success, in part, to the skills she learned in the military. “The two biggest skills that helped me are leadership and discipline,” she says. 

She also credits the college and the Veterans Resource Center. This year CNM won a 2021 Military Friendly award for the work done by the VRC where the center was recognized for its “effort and success in creating sustainable and meaningful benefit for the military community.”

“The VRC helped me understand my benefits, plan my education, and offered multiple resources that have allowed me to get involved with our local veteran community,” Dixon says. “Those resources and contacts have helped me with the transition to civilian life because I am able to speak with fellow veterans and share experiences from our time in the military. The community has also supported me in my studies.” 

Outside of the VRC, Dixon also worked closely with the Financial Aid office, which helped her with her FAFSA and several veteran-specific scholarships. She regularly met with academic advisors to make sure she was on the right path. 

In school, Dixon says she loves her culinary lab classes. The instructors are professional and experts in their craft.

“The instructors at CNM have always been supportive,” she says. “I appreciate how every instructor I've had has taken the time to explain the material and offer additional office hours so students can fully take in each concept. The culinary chefs are so passionate about culinary arts and dedicated to improving each student's individual skills.” 

Dixon has no doubts about her next steps. Once she has her certificate she plans to open a steakhouse here in New Mexico. She feels fully prepared for the challenges of opening a restaurant thanks to the variety of courses she’s taken—including the course that will help her with the business side of things. Down the road she’d also like to get her four-year college degree in Business Administration.

Dixon’s advice to other veterans considering CNM? She says go for it, and get involved.

“Reach out to the VRC and veteran community,” she says. “We all share similar experiences and come from similar backgrounds, so having someone to go through the transition from the military to a civilian lifestyle is really helpful.”

Learn more about CNM’s Culinary Arts programs and the Dietary Management certificate and Nutrition associate degree.