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Center for Engagement and Community Development

Kansas Department of Education's Division of Child Nutrition and Wellness, K-State's Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics Recognized for Collaboration on Child Nutrition

By Annie Cutler

MANHATTAN, Kansas – The Office of the Provost and the Center for Engagement and Community Development are happy to recognize Advancing Child Nutrition Programs in Kansas as one of two winners of the 2013 Excellence in Engagement Award. The program’s collaboration between Kansas State University’s Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics and the Kansas Department of Education’s Child Nutrition and Wellness team seeks to improve child nutrition programs in schools across Kansas. The partnership and its work result in a statewide impact on child nutrition. 

The Partners
The partnership is primarily between the Kansas Department of Education’s Division of Child Nutrition and Wellness team (CNW), and Kansas State University’s Jumpstart ProgramDepartment of Hospitality Management and Dietetics (HMD). According to the partnership’s application, the collaborative partnership has existed for a while, but really saw growth starting in 2005, when K-State alumni employed by the Department of Education collaborated and networked with HMD to determine better ways to provide quality child nutrition programs in Kansas. 

Kevin Sauer, assistant professor with HMD and the primary contact for the K-State part of the collaboration, says the project grew substantially after the realization that the two entities had shared interests and values. “We realized that where one side might experience challenges, the reciprocal partner was available to assist with those challenges and fulfill gaps.”

K-State’s Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics integrates theory, experience, and research to prepare graduates for successful careers in the dietetics and hospitality fields. The department is recognized for its work in providing outstanding operations management training for registered dietitians and boasts one of the top HMD graduate programs in the country. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded HMD’s Center of Excellence in Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs, recognizing the department’s capacity to contribute in a tangible way at the national level.

The Kansas Department of Education’s Child Nutrition and Wellness team strives to enhance quality child nutrition and wellness programs for Kansas children by providing leadership, training, and other resources. CNW encompasses a variety of programs, including the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, After School Care Snack Program, and more. Among other things, CNW also functions as the link between the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA and statewide child nutrition program sponsors.

“Essentially, this partnership aims to improve child nutrition programs across Kansas,” says Sauer. “By supporting various efforts and programs through the channels of both partners, we feel the outcomes are better, and yield a stronger child nutrition environment.”

The Project
Characterized by effective and reciprocal scholarship, the partnership aims to have a positive impact on the quality of child nutrition and wellness programs for all Kansas children. The partners have used several methods to work toward this goal, and identified highlights of their work.

Collaborative training and teaching is one of the primary approaches used by the partnership. CNW provides instruction to child nutrition professionals across Kansas, including the Child Nutrition Management Academy, which HMD assistant professor Kevin Sauer has assisted with since 2005. Another HMD instructor, Missy Schrader, assisted in the development and implementation of the “Culinary Champion” series of courses, aimed at benefiting child nutrition professionals; this series is now used by the Child Nutrition Management Academy. This shared teaching expertise has resulted in a positive impact on school nutrition programs and personnel.  

Engagement between K-State students and industry is another key tenet of the partnership. CNW consultants teach Jump Start, an orientation class for newly hired school foodservice directors in Kansas. Beginning in 2009, the Jump Start training was offered for K-State dietetics seniors, with the goal of enhancing the existing curriculum concerning child nutrition programs. In 2010, due to the success of the 2009 training, HMD and CNW began offering the training for both senior dietetics students and newly hired school foodservice directors. This opportunity for networking and engagement between future and current child nutrition professionals does not exist anywhere else in the country, and now serves as “a model form of collaboration between a state university and state child nutrition agency,” according to the partnership’s application.

In conjunction with engagement between K-State students and the child nutrition field, the partnership also helps meet industry needs. By involving undergraduate dietetics students in programs such as Jump Start and allowing them the opportunity to get involved in research, K-State HMD is preparing dietetics graduates to be successful Registered Dietitians (RDs). Because of the networking connection and close working relationships between CNW and HMD, K-State students are ready and able to fill vacant management positions in school foodservice operations.

Lastly, the partnership focuses on producing and facilitating collaborative research. K-State HMD’s Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs conducts specific research on produce safety and evaluation of school food safety programs, as well as other important topics. CNW has played an active role in assisting with this research by helping to find study participants, providing guidance concerning various projects, and evaluation of current practices. Combined expertise contributes to producing valuable, relevant research for grant applications and related projects in the child nutrition field.  

The main lesson learned, write the partners in their application, is that great things can be achieved when community partners share a common goal and vision and are willing to work cooperatively and creatively to further that vision.

JumpStart 2The Impact
Due to its multi-faceted approach to the issue of bettering child nutrition programs in the state of Kansas, the partnership between HMD and CNW has had a significant positive impact. Over 350,000 children in 1,600 schools have participated in the daily National School Lunch Program. Stronger training and programs for program personnel across Kansas has improved the quality and safety of food and nutrition services. The project has increased the preparedness of K-State dietetics students, while also giving them the professional network and field experience necessary to succeed in the dietetics field. Cheryl Johnson, director of the Child Nutrition and Wellness team at the Kansas State Department of Education, writes that the collaboration has had successful and multi-dimensional successes.

“The partnership has provided enriched classroom teaching for students, field experiences for students, undergraduate research experiences and enriched quality of training given to school food service employees through state-wide training,” write the partners in their application.

Although the focus of the project has always been on positive collaboration to help younger children in Kansas, our post-secondary students have benefited tremendously as well.

“Several of our graduates are employed by local school districts and by the Department of Education,” says Jeannie Sneed, head of the Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics. “Not only is that good for our graduates, it improves the quality of Child Nutrition Programs for children across Kansas. So, I think our students are big winners in this relationship.”

The Future
Looking forward, the program strives to continue its growth and positive impact on Kansas’ children, child nutrition professionals, and K-State dietetics students. Stated goals include continued involvement of undergraduate students in research and field experience opportunities, in keeping with the university’s 2025 vision. New assessment and data collection projects will be implemented as well. 

“Numerous positive outcomes already exist and we look forward to even more in the future as the collaboration continues to develop and grow,” says Cheryl Johnson. “We certainly value the opportunity to support teaching, research, and outreach at K-State and throughout Kansas.”


Photo Captions:

Photo 1 & 2: Senior students attend Jump Start program with Child Nutrition and Wellness trainers and new school nutrition directors.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Sauer