By Mark Ward, Sr., Phd 2014-08-19 22:39:19
Creative collaborations result when one state agency and a local university opt to work together. Meet Kevin Sauer Current Title: Associate Professor of Management Dietetics Organization: Kansas State University Alternate Profession You’d Choose: Meteorologist Bedside Book/Magazine: Men’s Healthx Top of Your Bucket List: Ride in a race car Place You’d Like to Visit: Alaska Dream Dinner Guest: Abraham Lincoln When Kevin Sauer, PhD, RD, LD, was attending his local community college, “Somebody suggested I should be a dietitian.” Though he had a personal interest in wellness, “dietitian” was a term that was new to him. “So, I looked it up—and decided that’s what I wanted to be!” Over the ensuing years, Sauer has collected three degrees in his chosen field, including a PhD, from Kansas State University. A member of the “K-State” faculty in Topeka, Kan., since 2009, he recently earned tenure and a promotion to associate professor. Sauer recalls, with some irony, his early days: “My first dietetics classes as an undergraduate were in cooking. But wearing a hairnet didn’t seem ‘cool’ to me! Still, I persevered and discovered that I had a real interest in the management side of dietetics.” Professor and Partner Today Sauer teaches management dietetics at Kansas State and annually coordinates some 600 hours of student practicums through the school’s Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics. And as part of the leadership team for the federally funded Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition, Sauer’s research activities target HACCP procedures and other food safety and sanitation issues, as well as the career paths of management dietitians. Sauer’s championing of these related interests has prompted a fruitful partnership between the university and the Child Nutrition and Wellness (CNW) division of the Kansas State Department of Education. “When I was a doctoral student, I took an opportunity to become a CNW summer trainer,” Sauer explains. Today, Sauer and many of his Kansas State colleagues assist CNW Director Cheryl Johnson, MS, RD, LD (see next page), in developing training programs and materials that incorporate and apply current research findings. Faculty members often are tapped to teach food safety and HACCP classes, regional classes and in service training workshops to Kansas school nutrition professionals. He is particularly enthused about his department’s role in “Jump Start” training classes offered each fall and spring by CNW for new directors and managers. “We host the two-day events on our campus,” Sauer explains, “and our seniors, who are due to graduate with their bachelor’s degrees, also attend the sessions. It’s a great way of encouraging them to consider child and school nutrition as career options.” In the eight years that Kansas State has hosted the Jump Start training, Sauer reports, “Many of our graduates have, in fact, gone into school nutrition [positions] around the state. Also, a number of our graduates have been hired as staff at [the state agency].” Finding a Focus As Sauer reflects on his role in guiding dietetics students in their career choices, he is reminded of his own example. “Our students often start like I did, with a general interest in wellness, but without a specific focus,” he recounts. “I grew up in a Kansas farming community, where my grandmother ran the local café. At the same time, I had family members who’d been diagnosed with diabetes and heart problems,” Sauer continues. “Put all that together, and I graduated from high school with a general interest in food and wellness— but didn’t even know what a dietitian was.” Faculty mentors at Kansas State guided Sauer through his 1993 bachelor’s degree in dietetics and completion of the exam to become a Registered Dietitian. Upon graduation, he found work as a school nutrition director for a private management company. “They were just entering the school market,” he recalls. “So, it was a great opportunity to learn operations from scratch.” But in 1995, Sauer opted to return to Kansas State, working in the school’s dining services department while pursuing his master’s degree. Three years later, he was hired to manage food and nutrition services for a Kansas hospital system. But academe beckoned once again in 2004, when Kansas State offered Sauer a full-time instructor position that would pay his way through a doctoral degree in human ecology. “Then, as chance would have it,” he says, “the university had a tenure-track opening in my field, just as I was graduating in 2009.” Sauer recently was named to the SNA Governing Council. “I look at SNA as the ‘GPS’ for our profession,” he states. “A lot of good research about best practices is being done—and to find it, SNA is the place for operators to go.” Meet Cheryl Johnson Current Title: Director of Child Nutrition and Wellness Organization: Kansas Department of Education Favorite School Food As a Kid: Chili and cinnamon rolls Alternate Profession You’d Choose: College Professor Bedside Book/Magazine: The Pioneer Woman Cooks Top of Your Bucket List: Travel to Europe Hobbies: Baking, reading, gardening, singing After a midlife career move saw her landing her “dream job,” Cheryl Johnson, MS, RD, LD, says, “I feel reenergized!” Johnson worked in non-commercial foodservice settings during the Eighties before taking a break to raise a family. But she kept active as a dietetic consultant and trainer, before taking on a part-time gig in 2006 as training coordinator for the Child Nutrition and Wellness (CNW) division of the Kansas State Department of Education in Topeka, Kan. Nutrition Matters Four years later, in 2010, Johnson’s youngest child went off to college. And when the current CNW director decided that year to retire, “I was ready to apply!” Johnson recounts of her transition to today leading a team of more than 30 professionals who provide leadership, information, training, oversight and technical assistance to local school and child nutrition operations and agencies throughout Kansas. “There were challenges for me, not only in making the transition back into full-time work, but also stepping right away into a leadership position,” Johnson recalls. “Also, just after I got the job, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.” Soon thereafter, “We all had to figure how to deal with the new set of school nutrition standards.” Johnson’s capability to hit the ground running makes her a shining example to all who reenter the profession after a hiatus. “First, I never dropped out,” she explains. “Writing nutrition manuals on a freelance basis, doing occasional adjunct teaching, taking on some consulting projects—all these helped keep me on top of developments in nutrition and dietetics.” Second, Johnson continues, as CNW director, she immediately “took advantage of opportunities to collaborate with other agencies—something that I’ve continued to emphasize.” One such partner is the School Nutrition Association of Kansas (SNA-KS), with which CNW has worked to conduct state- and chapter-level training programs, reports Johnson, who also serves SNA on a national level as a member of its Governing Council. “Being involved with SNA and working with its members means that we get invaluable input and feedback from operators,” she notes. Connecting in Kansas In July 2013 at SNA’s Annual National Conference (ANC) in Kansas City, Mo., Johnson joined with Kansas State University professor Kevin Sauer, PhD, RD, LD (see previous page), to present an education session about a successful collaboration between the two organizations. “Before I became CNW director and was the training coordinator, I was looking for people qualified to teach in our summer Child Nutrition Management Academy and [lead] other summer training courses,” Johnson recounts. As a Kansas State alumna who earned her bachelor’s degree in 1980 and master’s degree in 1983, she reached out to her alma mater. Faculty from the Department of Hospitality Management and Dietetics proved willing and able to meet the need. “Our collaboration with Kansas State is beneficial on several levels,” Johnson explains. “We tap into the faculty’s expertise as part of our cadre of trainers. Also, when we do surveys, they know how to conduct research and can help us. And we get access to their research, which we can incorporate into training classes. School nutrition operators not only need to learn about best practices; those practices must be based on evidence and solid research.” [Editors’ Note: For more details, view Johnson and Sauer’s presentation at http://tinyurl.com/SauerJohnson ANC13.] Reflecting on her career choices, Johnson insists she’s had it all. “Nutrition is a great profession,” she explains. “I got great experience early in my career; was able to take a break for my family, while doing part-time work that fit my needs; and then was ready when a dream job came along that lets me be a real difference maker. What could be better ?!” Mark Ward is a freelance writer in Victoria, Texas.
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