By Penny McLaren 2016-06-10 05:27:34
What’s a “piece of paper” worth? More than you might imagine. “SHE GOT THE JOB JUST BECAUSE SHE HAS THAT PIECE OF PAPER,” the coworker grumbled. “I could do that job, even without the paper.” JoAnne Robinett overheard the disparaging comment from a kitchen worker, just when she was beginning her new assignment as director of the foodservice operation in the Xenia, Ohio, school district. It had been no easy task for Robinett to earn “that piece of paper,” a bachelor’s degree from Antioch University. She squeezed in classes at the beginning and end of her foodservice shift, switching colleges when the classes she needed were not offered at the times she could attend, working toward her goal steadily year after year after year. Just as Robinett finished her last credits, her supervisor announced her intention to retire. With a degree in hand on top of several years of school foodservice experience, Robinett felt she was ready to apply for the position—and was hired. The mean-spirited remark stung. To anyone who has worked toward a degree, a certificate, a credential or some other formal educational goal, the investment of time, money and effort isn’t made in pursuit of a simple piece of paper. And that paper represents not only the investment, but genuine achievement. DEGREES OF ADULT ED APPEAL Beth Mincemoyer Egan, MEd, RD, SNS, is senior instructor at the Pennsylvania State University’s School of Hospitality Management and the Research Committee chair on SNA’s Board of Directors. As a professional educator, she’s expected to have some wisdom into why adults seek higher education. But she also offers insight about this allure to SNA members. After all, she notes, “They work in an educational environment, and consequently higher education is highly valued. They work with teachers and principals who are all highly educated. If you earn a GED or college degree, it will help you feel more a part of the school organization.” At the same time, you’ll find that tremendous personal growth comes with getting further education. “Members who earn college degrees build confidence in their skills and in themselves as individuals,” Egan continues. “That encourages them to step out of their comfort zones and improve their programs in numerous ways. They become advocates for their students and their programs overall. “I have seen many members who get college degrees step up to become leaders in our association, and other community programs, perhaps because they feel more confident in their abilities, or perhaps because they have faced a challenge and now know they can rise to meet challenges. And perhaps it is also because they learn the intrinsic rewards of setting a goal and meeting it.” YES, YOU CAN Could you get a degree? School Nutrition checked in with a few SNA members who are working toward, or who have finished, their undergraduate and graduate degrees. Let yourself be inspired by their examples. Hear how and why they set out on these educational journeys—and how they persisted, especially when they were tired, frustrated, discouraged and overwhelmed. It doesn’t come easy, but in the end, getting that piece of paper, that record of achievement, is oh, so worth the effort! Gay Anderson, SNS District Director » Brandon Valley (S.D.) Schools COMPLETED A BACHELOR’S DEGREE, WORKING TOWARD A MASTER’S DEGREE GAY ANDERSON wanted to accomplish one long-held goal: Stand for election to serve in SNA’s top leadership spot. That meant making good on a promise she had made to her parents years earlier when she graduated high school, but deferred college for what was intended to be a year, but stretched into decades. She fulfilled the promise in May 2015, when she earned her bachelor’s degree in business. She accomplished her goal when she was elected in February to the position of SNA vice president; she will serve as the Association’s president in 2018-19. But that’s not the end of her educational story. Mere weeks after her graduation ceremony in Spring 2015, Anderson began classes in pursuit of a master’s in business administration (MBA). Family and career demands kept college on the backburner for a long time. Once she discovered K-12 school foodservice, she quickly got involved first in her state association and then the national organization. Her aspirations for leadership meant she had to earn her degree to be eligible to run. She enrolled in the University of Sioux Falls online degree completion program, which didn’t require her to be on campus. She took a heavy load of classes, 12 or more credit hours each semester, giving her full-time student status. Anderson earned her degree in a little more than two-and-a-half years, completing 90% of the coursework online. But she cautions others that such an independent study approach takes incredible self-discipline. Having a supportive family helped, Anderson credits. Her husband woke her up to study, while he cleaned the house. He, as well as her oldest daughter, are teachers, and offered expert support. “I would send a finished paper to her and ask, ‘What do you think?’” But, Anderson did sacrifice some family time. “While they are out, I am at home, doing homework,” she recounts. A local women’s group who learned she was working toward her degree actually sought her out to award her scholarship money. Anderson also encourages others to apply for the scholarships available through the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF). “It was worth it, by all means,” she says, looking back. Not only is she satisfied to have made good on her promise to her parents, but also “because learning was phenomenal. I enjoyed it. I had a thirst for wanting to learn more.” Another benefit? Degree in hand, Anderson negotiated a pay increase with her district’s administration. “If you have the commitment and want it enough, you can do it,” she says. “Go at your own pace. I recommend that you set up your game plan. You can speed it up or slow it down, depending on your life.” In the end, the achievement was even more resonant than she imagined. Initially, she’d planned to bypass the commencement ceremony, but her family insisted she attend. “I was very proud when I walked on the stage at graduation.” Kelsey Gartner, RDN, MLD Nutrition/Garden Coordinator » Great Valley (Pa.) School District COMPLETED A MASTER’S DEGREE For KELSEY GARTNER, there was no time like the present to get her master’s degree. “You almost have to have your master’s degree today,” she asserts, noting, “Right now, I have no kids and family, so I don’t have to do any juggling. I have seen those who go back to school [after they] have kids, and the road is more difficult for them. I don’t know how they do it.” Gartner enrolled in the graduate program at Penn State University Great Valley, attending classes on campus twice a week. The program caters to students with day jobs, offering classes in the evenings, but it was still rigorous. “I got home from work about 4:30 or 5 p.m. and had to be in class at 6 p.m. But I got in the zone.” Although there were times “when I didn’t know if I would get through it,” she admits, Gartner completed her degree in January of this year. Her goal is to become a K-12 school nutrition district director. Until then, what she learned in class helps her on the job right now. “When I first started, I didn’t know how to manage people, and so I did a lot of micro-managing,” she recounts. “Through the classes and by listening to [fellow students], I learned how to work with personalities [and learn] from others.” Public speaking was another skill she honed. “I hated it,” Gartner admits, “but at least now I have a little more self-confidence when I do it.” Plus, as part of a class assignment, she implemented a food truck project for the district’s summer foodservice program. Gartner changed her educational focus midstream. She’d intended to work toward a master’s in business administration, but ultimately realized it wasn’t what she really wanted to do. “The financial aspect of the program is good, but I didn’t feel a strong connection to some of the other parts of the MBA program,” she explains. “So, I switched to a program where I learned more people skills. It was a good change.” The downside was that some of her credits didn’t transfer into the new program. “So that was about $2,000 lost in class credits paid,” Gartner laments, adding, “but I just realized that was part of it, just a roadblock I had to get past. I did think, ‘Wow, I could have taken a nice vacation to Florida with that money.’ But still, I have to remember the overall big picture.” She warns others to learn from another mistake she made. “I didn’t look that hard for financial support,” she admits. “The cost of one class is a lot of money. I put a lot of my own money into getting the degree, but there is a good amount of scholarship money out there.” Eventually, she did apply and was awarded an SNF scholarship. She urges prospective adult students to explore opportunities within their district, SNA/SNF, the Association of School Business Officials International and other professional organizations. Jeremy West, SNS, CDM Director of Nutrition Services » Weld County (Colo.) School District WORKING TOWARD A BACHELOR’S DEGREE JEREMY WEST juggles many responsibilities. In addition to his job for his school district, he is the incoming president for the Colorado School Nutrition Association. He is also program co-chair for the Annual National Conference (ANC) this summer in San Antonio and will move up to serve as chair next year in Atlanta. He is chair of the Association’s SNS Exam Working Group. He has five active kids at home. “And I take care of a church on the weekends,” he adds, as if he needs to fill up those last remaining hours in his week. So, what better time to start working on a bachelor’s degree, right? After earning an associate degree in 1999, West told himself that he’d wait for the “right” time to complete his bachelor’s. He started working in school nutrition and his position as director is grandfathered under the Professional Standards rule— provided he stay in his current district. “I have maximized what I can do without a degree,” he says. “I was fortunate to land the jobs that I did. I want to be ready for promotions. I don’t want to be a stumbling block to myself.” For advice, he turned to Gay Anderson. “I got her thoughts and she was very encouraging,” he credits. His own college-age daughter was another cheerleader. In August 2015, West returned to school to begin, in earnest, work toward a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. “An investment in education is always important,” he says. His credits from Pikes Peak Community College to Colorado State Global University allowed West to apply 84 hours toward his goal. That meant he was just 12 classes away from graduation. “That seemed doable,” he notes. By design, the online program allows students to jump in or out as desired, taking one class for one eight-week semester, and then none the next, then back in for the following session. He admits he was initially hesitant. “I had never taken an online class before, but I found out they all have the same flow,” West explains. “You have to post your thoughts as part of the class discussion. Homework is due on Sunday night. Papers of five to ten pages are required. You just have to get the class scheduled into your life,” he says. The hardest thing might be finding a quiet spot to concentrate; oftentimes, it’s his office, at the end of the day. Online classes also give West the flexibility to stay on track, even when he traveled to the National Leadership Conference in Minneapolis, working on his assignments after hours in the hotel room. But the best part for West is the course content, which he finds immediately relevant to his day job. His first class covered leadership principles, and he shared what he learned with members of his leadership team. Most recently, he completed a class on managing conflict and negotiations. At the same time, he was assigned to a district committee determining labor contracts. To those contemplating a similar path, West urges them to keep the end goal in mind. “I wish it could go faster, but I know the strategy of taking one eight-week course, then taking eight weeks off, is paying off [for me]. As long as at the end of it, I have my degree.” Vonda Bradford Administrative Assistant » Franklin County (Tenn.) School District WORKING TOWARD A BACHELOR’S DEGREE VONDA BRADFORD is working on her bachelor’s degree in political science and nutrition—a combination she doesn’t find the least bit unlikely. “Both go hand in hand,” Bradford explains. “When I was PPL chair for the state association, and went to lobby the legislature every year for the school foodservice programs, I saw how the two go together.” She is pursuing her bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University, taking classes online. She takes two classes a semester—her personal limit—and expects to graduate in 2019. Bradford has been in her present job for four years, but before that, she was a school site manager and maintains her foodservice certification. She’s been with the district for 22 years. After high school, she started college, but eventually dropped out to raise a family. She’s returned to her early aspirations, because Bradford wants to be a district director or supervisor one day, and, like West, recognizes that the new federal Professional Standards regulation will require her to have a bachelor’s degree. “The difficult thing is finding time,” she concedes. “I spend eight hours a day at work, then go home and have to be a student.” Settling into a routine makes it easier. One unexpected benefit was a class in how to create a portfolio of her work experience, which, in turn, was submitted to the school’s governing board in an appeal for additional credit hour equivalents. Bradford ended up with 16 additional credits, based on a variety of activities, including her Association lobbying experiences. Bradford says that she has been helped along the way through the support of her family and her supervisor, and by the scholarships she received through SNF, including one supported by Schwan’s Food Service. “I got two scholarships,” she says. “It was a tremendous help for me.” To her peers with similar ambitions, Bradford’s advice is simple: “Don’t be afraid to do it. Jump in.” Diane Schweitzer, PhD, CSRM, CFSP, EMP Executive Director of Buildings and Grounds » School City of Hammond, Ind. COMPLETED A DOCTORAL DEGREE DIANE SCHWEITZER was in the “inaugural class” of the Iowa State University Child Nutrition Program Leadership Academy. The program, which began in 2004, was developed specifically to provide school nutrition directors with the opportunity to earn a doctoral degree. It required three weeks of residence on campus in Ames, Iowa, for two consecutive summers. Between summer sessions, students had to enroll in graduate-level classes online or at a local university for credit transfer to the Iowa State program. For Schweitzer, her doctoral aspirations were as much personal as professional. “I knew I didn’t want to be 80 years old, reflecting on my life, saying, ‘Gee, I wish I had done that when I had the chance.’ I knew more doors of opportunity would open.” Summer sessions required classroom time, followed by evenings of reading, research, writing and collaboration time for presentation— the very next day. Back home, after all the class requirements had been met, was the dreaded dissertation. Not only was the research and writing a meticulous, arguably grueling, process, but Schweitzer encountered some unexpected frustrations, including disagreements with dissertation committee members about how to present the content, frequent text changes and repeated drafts back and forth. And then, there was the defense. Schweitzer calls the dissertation defense “relentless.” It involved two hours or more with four committee members, plus the professor overseeing the major. “It’s a day I will never forget,” she recounts. “I was grateful when my interrogation concluded, and I was escorted out of the room as they deliberated on the final verdict. Five minutes later, I was invited back into the room to hear those sweet words: ‘Congratulations, Doctor.’” Was it worth the effort? “Absolutely!” she insists. “I saw how the PhD program catapulted many individuals to achieve personal and professional greatness. I became good friends with some very remarkable, giving and talented individuals. I know that I can pick up the phone or send a text or email [to them], and I will get a quick response.” In addition, she notes, “Many of the professors have become personal friends of their former students, and remain in close contact with them, long after defense.” She places great weight not only on the academic content, but on the “incidental skills” that were imparted in the process: leadership, time management, organizational management and critical-thinking skills. JoAnne Robinett, MSA, SNS Consultant » America’s Meal COMPLETED BACHELOR’S AND MASTER’S DEGREES, WORKED TOWARD A DOCTORAL DEGREE JOANNE ROBINETT attended community college for one year before marrying and having children. A few years later, in search of a job, a two-hour position as a K-12 cook seemed the only option available to her. She never expected it would become the basis for her life’s work. “I just fell in love with it,” she says. She found she quickly wanted more. Robinett discovered that moving up in school nutrition meant she’d probably need a college degree. Her first consideration was to pursue a degree in dietetics. Enrolling in the program would mean quitting her day job and being a full-time student on campus. She investigated further and found that most dietitians in K-12 conceded that the clinical knowledge that came with their degree was less important than “people skills.” That sealed the deal and Robinett opted to enroll in a business program that was more affordable and closer to home. Initially, she took 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. classes, going to work at the district from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and then back to campus for a 3:30 p.m. class. But after two years, the next rounds of coursework were only offered in the middle of day, a schedule conflicting with her new six-hour manager position. Another school offered a friendlier schedule (Friday nights and all day Saturday for “adult completers”) and Robinett transferred. It meant missing family functions, such as her son’s wrestling matches, but the kids understood. Divorced with three kids, she also qualified for federal Pell Grants and received scholarships from SNF. No sooner had she graduated with her bachelor’s in December, Robinett started on her master’s the very next month! This was even more rigorous, because classes had to be completed within a timeframe in order to count toward the degree. “I had to move faster, or I was in danger of dropping off one class, each time I was taking a new one,” she recounts. Still Robinett persevered and successfully completed her master’s. She briefly explored the prospects of earning a doctoral degree through the Iowa State Child Nutrition program, but ultimately decided it was not a necessary tool to further her career ambitions and the effort was not worth the required sacrifices. But she has no regrets about her educational choices. “Going for a degree opens your mind,” she insists. “It gives you a bigger view. It also gives you an appreciation for the struggles of others. It changes the way you think.” BE A GLAD GRAD What about your educational goals? Have you contemplated what it would mean to earn a degree, whether it’s finally getting your GED or earning the highest level post-graduate recognition? Let the stories of your colleagues in these pages inspire you to take the next step forward. Maybe that start is simply researching different accredited institutions of higher learning, whether it’s a local college or an online university. What programs are available to you? Does the course content interest you? What’s the time investment? How are sessions structured? How much will it cost—and what sources of tuition assistance can you tap? Next, spend a little time in honest self-reflection. Do you really want this? Is it worth the sacrifices that are inevitable? Do you have the self-discipline and time management skills to get through each semester without tearing out your hair? How about support from loved ones? “Students who don’t have the support of the people around them struggle a lot more than students who have encouragement from those close to them,” says Penn State’s Beth Egan. Do you have the determination and persistence you’ll need to stay with it? “Life throws lots of roadblocks and obstacles in the way when adults return to college,” Egan continues. “If you experience a failure, it can be so tough. You need an attitude that allows you to pull it together and take another run at it.” Are fear and doubt still whispering in your ear? Head online to www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to read three more stories that will inspire you. Reach out and contact these folks and others you know for advice. Take notes—it will be good practice for when you start work on that very special “piece of paper.” Yes. You can do this. Penny McLaren has an MBA in marketing. She is a former editor of this publication and a freelance writer in Vancouver, Wash. She can be reached at email@example.com. BONUS WEB CONTENT Diploma Dreams This month’s web extras include the inspiring stories of three more school nutrition professionals pursuing their educational dreams: Andrew Ashelford, Lincoln (Neb.) Public Schools; Julie Boettger, School City of Hammond, Ind.; and Sara Keen, Schuylerville (N.Y.) Central School District. Also, check out the list of top tips offered by all those who agreed to be interviewed for this article. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access these insights.
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