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K-State Today

April 11, 2013



Excellence in engagement: Partnership between state and K-State helps child nutrition programs

By Communications and Marketing

This is a feature about one of two Excellence in Engagement winners. Established in 2011 by the office of the provost, the university's Excellence in Engagement awards are given to highlight excellence in engaged scholarship — via research, teaching and/or outreach. These awards recognize K-State Research and Extension and campus faculty initiatives that demonstrate innovative and/or sustained efforts in university/community engagement positively impacting both university and community partners.

Advancing Child Nutrition Programs in Kansas is one of two winners of the 2013 Excellence in Engagement Award, according to the office of the provost and the Center for Engagement and Community Development.

The program's collaboration between the 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 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 the department of hospitality management and dietetics to determine better ways to provide quality child nutrition programs in the state.

Kevin Sauer, assistant professor of hospitality management and dietetics and the primary contact for the K-State part of the collaboration, said 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," Sauer said.

The 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 hospitality management and dietetics graduate programs in the country. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the department'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. Child and Nutrition Wellness encompasses a variety of programs, including the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, After School Care Snack Program and more. Among other things, Child and Nutrition Wellness 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," said 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."

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. Child Nutrition and Wellness provides instruction to child nutrition professionals across Kansas, including the Child Nutrition Management Academy, which Sauer has assisted with since 2005. Another hospitality management and dietetics 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. Child Nutrition and Wellness consultants teach Jump Start, an orientation class for newly hired school food service directors in Kansas. Beginning in 2009, the Jump Start training was offered for K-State seniors in dietetics, with the goal of enhancing the existing curriculum concerning child nutrition programs. In 2010, due to the success of the 2009 training, the department of hospitality management and dietetics and Child Nutrition and Wellness began offering the training for both senior students in dietetics and newly hired school food service 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 Sauer.

• 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, the department of hospitality management and dietetics is preparing dietetics graduates to be successful registered dietitians. Because of the networking connection and close working relationships between the department and Child Nutrition and Wellness, K-State students are ready and able to fill vacant management positions in school food service operations.

* Lastly, the partnership focuses on producing and facilitating collaborative research. The Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs at K-State conducts specific research on produce safety and evaluation of school food safety programs, as well as other important topics. Child Nutrition and Wellness 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, according to the project's partners, 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.

Due to its multifaceted approach to the issue of bettering child nutrition programs in the state of Kansas, the partnership between the department of hospitality management and Child Nutrition and Wellness has had a significant positive impact. More than 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.

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 statewide training.

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

"Several of our graduates are employed by local school districts and by the Kansas Department of Education," said 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 program's goals for the future include continued involvement of undergraduate students in research and field experience opportunities, in keeping with K-State'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, director of the Child Nutrition and Wellness team at the Kansas Department of Education. "We certainly value the opportunity to support teaching, research and outreach at K-State and throughout Kansas."

More information is available at http://www.k-state.edu/cecd/initiatives/EngagementAwardHonorRoll.html.

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