When Molly Gordon arrived for Aiken High School's registration program last August, the rising freshman quickly sought out culinary arts teacher Jean Gorthy.

She had heard about the program and wanted to get involved with the class and with the Family Career and Community Leaders of America club.

Gordon did just that and more. She and Gorthy recently returned from the club's National Leadership Conference in Nashville, Ten. where Gordon earned a gold medal in her division. She also will become the club president next month, when school starts back.

To earn a gold medal in the Career Investigation STAR event, Gordon had to score 90 points or higher. She received a score of 97.67.

“I think what I liked most about it was the 7,000 people at the conference,” she said. “It was so incredible to see so many passionate teenagers who like the same things I do. I made a lot of good friends, walking around and trading pins.”

Gordon qualified for nationals through her performance at the state level last spring. Also qualifying for nationals from Aiken High was the outgoing club president and recent graduate Alyssa Brewe in hospitality tourism and recreation. She was unable to attend the national event because of conflicts.

“Molly and I had a great time,” Gorthy said. “We learned a lot from the exhibits, vendors and the booths that spotlighted the projects of students throughout the country.”

Brooks Smith, the Aiken County Career and Technology Center principal, also attended the conference. The School District has about 14 related programs in culinary arts and early childhood, he said, providing career skills development in consumer science.

“These state and national level programs allow students to develop those career-oriented skills,” Smith said.

For her competitive effort, Gordon created a portfolio with self-assessments and the job description of becoming a chef – a dream that emerged for her at age 6. She also spoke to judges in an oral presentation.

Gordon has other plans, too. She wants to get more Aiken High students involved in the club and work in conjunction with the school's marketing program, DECA and the civic Serteens Club.

“I want to see us focus on the food pantry at school, as a lot of kids are going hungry and other kids don't know about it,” Gordon said.

Gorthy has been impressed with the young woman's determination so early in her high school career. In 2011-12, the club leaders were Kaylee Heath and Alexis Brewe. Gorthy was concerned about the “next generation,” which turned out to be Alyssa Brewe, Alexis' sister.

“Alyssa kept everything together, and now Molly has come along,” Gorthy said. “She is certainly setting bars for us.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.