Harford Technical High's Laura Raab rushes into the school's restaurant at 11 a.m. in a pretty flowered dress that is soon exchanged for her whites -- chef's hat and jacket, that is.
Her daily routine as restaurant manager of the 30-seat, student-operated Thomas Run Inn is about to begin.
"I basically make sure everyone is doing their assigned job," she says.
Laura, a senior, has been studying food technology since she was a 10th-grader at the school.
"She's one of our best," says teacher Phillip Farnschlader.
Her hard work recently paid off when she was named top vocational student in Maryland by a panel of state vocational directors. Fifty students were chosen nationally from a field of 750 finalists.
Laura received a $500 U.S. savings bond for her efforts and is in the running to be selected as one of 10 national winners in the All-American Vocational Students Awards program, sponsored by the Servistar Corp.
Students were judged on honors and awards, school and community activities, and educational plans and career goals, contest organizers say.
But winning awards is not new to 17-year-old Laura. Last year, she was singled out in the state for another national competition with a $2,500 savings bond prize.
And this month, the Bel Air resident, who is vice president of the Student Government Association, will be named student of the year for food technology at Harford Technical, Mr. Farnschlader says.
Her specialty is cake decorating, she says, as she modestly acknowledges winning a VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America) competition for a Christmas cake and a baby-shower cake she trimmed with rattles and bootees.
It's probably no surprise that Laura likes to make shower cakes. She loves being with children, she says, and baby-sits her aunt's three children in the summer.
During the winter, the A student and member of the National Honor Society is busy with homework and her favorite hobby, bowling. She's a league bowler at Forest Hills Lanes and has a few championships under her belt, including last year's Baltimore Young American Bowling Alliance Tournament.
With graduation and prom just ahead, Laura has already made plans to attend Harford Community College in the fall. She hopes to have a future in restaurant and hotel management, she says.
Laura's practicality comes across when she is asked whether she's going to head to Ocean City after graduation -- an annual rite of passage for many of Maryland's seniors.
"No," she says emphatically. "It's a waste of money. . . . I'd rather spend it on college."