Tasting success

Tassie Pippert shares her passion for food and wine in the classroom and on the small screen

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SUMMARY: Hospitality wasn't Tassie Pippert's ('11, '13M) first career, nor was teaching. But since 2010, she has been winning fans—and awards—in both arenas.

By Stephen Briggs

The path to success is rarely a straight line. As we move through life, it skims along the horizon and we continually redefine our goals in order to reach it.

For Tassie Pippert (’11, ’13M), a lecturer of hospitality management in the Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management, success once meant getting a college degree. Or following that with a master’s. Or having her food and drink recipes featured in the pages of Virginia Living magazine. Or fronting her Virginia-based wine and cooking show, Un-wine’d, on VPM: Virginia's Home for Public Media—and being nominated for an Emmy.

For Pippert’s students, success translates into engaged learning in the classroom and beyond.

“Bringing technology into the classroom is important, because students learn differently,” said Pippert, a recipient of the Charles Harris Award of Distinction for Teaching with Technology. “Any time you can flip things so that it is a more inclusive environment to learn, rather than just lecturing, is always positive.”

Pippert teaching
Pippert supervises culinary techniques in the Hart School's demonstration kitchen in Godwin Hall. Over the years, Pippert's hands-on teaching style has left a lasting impression.

Hospitality isn’t a typical classroom-style industry, said Steve Evans (’20), one of Pippert’s former Hart School students. “Completing classwork and passing exams doesn’t have the same direct impact on a career. In our professional world, experience and creativity carry you, and Tassie’s teaching style targets and caters to those aspects.”

Pippert also makes use of her expertise in video production, an effort enhanced by the facilities in Godwin Hall, the home of the Hart School. Not only does the building feature a demonstration kitchen with a three-camera system and monitors to give students an eagle-eye view of the action, but there are also six restaurant-quality cooking stations where teams of students can run through their lessons while Pippert circulates among them and advises them on techniques.

For Bree Crump (’19), another of Pippert’s former students, this teaching style leaves a lasting impression.

“Tassie has a very unique, hands-on learning method,” she said. “You have to be hands-on with culinary and beverage management, but she goes above and beyond for her students. I’ll never forget: On our beverage management final, she invited all of us—about 35 students—into her home for a wine and food pairing like no other, starting with hors d’oeuvres and ending with desserts. That’s a learning experience that I’ll cherish for a lifetime.” 

Pippert with students in Cannes
Pippert with a group of students at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

But before Pippert became a certified chef, before she mastered the world of wine and winemaking, and before she led her students on trips to Napa Valley, Italy and France to immerse them in the culinary arts, the bar for her success was in a different place.

Pippert grew up in nearby Rawley Springs, Virginia, with a father who drove a beer truck before becoming a lineman for Harrisonburg Electric Commission, and a mother who worked for the Expanded Food and Nutrition group for the Virginia Extension Office in Harrisonburg and then in the county schools helping with special-needs children. In those days, JMU was just a spot on the horizon.

But as a first-generation college student, Pippert understood the importance of support, which she learned early on from her parents. “My mother and father never made me feel that I could not do what I wanted in life,” she said. “They didn’t quite know how to help us achieve the education we wanted but never stood in the way of us seeking assistance and going for our goals.”

Pippert and her two siblings have earned two associate degrees, four bachelor’s degrees, four master’s degrees and a doctorate in theology.

Hospitality isn’t even Pippert’s first career, nor is teaching. In fact, she came to JMU as a development officer in 2005, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees already in hand. But by 2010, she was teaching in the Hart School full-time and on her way to a second set of degrees, both from JMU. She currently serves as secretary of the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education.

“I wish I had found hospitality earlier,” Pippert said. “I wish my career in the educational industry had been longer.” But she has no regrets. “When we go to Napa and we are greeted by my former students who are now in the industry and doing what they love, these are the kinds of proud moments that I have, and that is a rewarding experience.”

Evans, who now works in management at a resort property, said of Pippert’s influence, “She was a great mentor to me, treated me as a professional while I was still a student and allowed me to grow outside of the traditional classroom setting. Without professors like Tassie, hospitality students wouldn’t be ready to take on the professional world after graduation.”

Pippert Parrington
Pippert on the set of Un-wine'dwith her longtime producer, Shari Pennington.

Which brings us back to Un-wine’d . If the show is a measure of Pippert’s success, then she hit that mark in late June, when it was awarded a Capital Emmy in the category Lifestyle: Long-Form Content. She shares the award with her longtime producer, Shari Pennington.

So once again, Pippert will enthusiastically scan the horizon to spot her next path toward success.


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Published: Thursday, August 26, 2021

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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