Derek Schweiger at culinary competition

Meet the 2017 class exemplar, Derek Schweiger

Posted May 29, 2017

As an independent study, Plymouth High School class exemplar Derek Schweiger worked on developing an ice cream that meets the strict dietary guidelines for schools.

To offer an alternative to frozen yogurt in the cafeteria, Derek and culinary arts and food science teacher Gale Litt formed a partnership with Richard Rupp, chef and corporate project training manager with The Vollrath Co., that allowed him to work with a Vollrath industry professional.

“This is an excellent example of Derek’s drive, initiative, and willingness to ask ‘What if?’,” said PHS Principal Jennifer Rauscher.

Derek, son of Dennis and Diane Schweiger, was chosen as class exemplar by a panel of adults to represent the Class of 2017 at Commencement based on his stellar academic work, extensive extracurricular involvement and leadership skills.

Graduating Summa Cum Laude – the highest distinction available and granted only to students who do well in the most rigorous courses – Derek said the most important thing he has learned at PHS is that “respecting people for who they are is the greatest quality anyone can have.”

At PHS, Derek played football and basketball all four years, and was captain of both his senior year. He also participated in FFA, Math Team, Student Council and Peers 4 Peers all four years. He was in FBLA since sophomore year, and served as vice president this year. He also played baseball for three years, and was a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society and Team Panther.

Derek also was very involved in the PHS culinary arts program, completing a restaurant industry Youth Apprenticeship and participating in many culinary competitions. “Each time he has competed, he has applied strong leadership skills as well as his knowledge in science and culinary to help create a successful team,” Mrs. Litt said.  

Among the competitions Derek participated in were:

  • Lakeshore Culinary Cooking Championship, where his team took first his sophomore and junior years
  • Fox Valley Cooking Competition, where he finished 11th out of 24 as a junior and 2nd out of 24 as a senior
  • Plymouth Chili Cook-Off Champion as a junior and again as a senior
  • State Whipping up Wellness Finalist as a sophomore
  • State ProStart Invitational as a sophomore and junior

After winning the Plymouth Chili Cook-Off the first time – beating his employer, Antoinette’s, where he works as lead cook – Derek donated his time to make his winning chili for a PHS professional development day. “Thanks to his positive energy, commendable work ethic, and intrinsic motivation, both peers and adults enjoy working with Derek and recognize him as a leader in our school and community,” Dr. Rauscher said.

Derek said he enjoyed most of his classes at PHS, thanks to the knowledge of the teachers, but his favorite was Food Science with Mrs. Litt. “This class as well as Mrs. Litt introduced me into the field that I am going into,” he said. “The class gave me an in-depth look into food science through a number of field trips to local businesses (Sartori, Sargento, Johnsonville). I enjoyed the experiments we did in the class and just enjoyed the overall experience.”

Derek plans to major in food science and minor in chemistry at Iowa State University, where he also will play football as a preferred walk-on. He also plans to pursue a master’s in business administration and eventually become a product developer. “I want to update existing or create new products in the food industry,” he said.

As 2017 PHS class exemplar, Derek receives the $5,000 Rhyan Family Class Exemplar Scholarship. Mr. Rhyan, who died in December 2013, was a strong proponent of the class exemplar designation, and memorials given in his name contributed to the scholarship fund administered by the Plymouth Education Foundation.

Derek also will speak at the PHS Commencement Exercises on June 4. “My graduation speech is about three challenges that I have for graduates as we start our newest journey,” he said. “If the student is going into the workforce or going to further their education, the speech fits everyone. I use a personal experience to show how one of the challenges affects not just me, but all people.”

Learn more:
Commencement Exercises details.