Sebasthian Varas SNA Member Since 2006 • Sandy, Utah As a child in Chile, Sebasthian Varas, RDN, CD, SNS, didn’t grow up with the U.S. school cafeteria model, so it wasn’t until his post-college dietetic internship that he fell in love with school nutrition. Upon discovering his passion, he immediately aimed high, eyeing a director role. Now, 10 years into his school nutrition career, he’s spent the past seven years in the top spot at Canyons School District in Sandy, Utah, and finished his year as president of SNA of Utah with a 2016 President’s Award of Excellence. Sebasthian reflects on what makes a strong leader, the importance of trusting yourself and the goals he’s set at work and home. On Inspiration I speak to future dietitians at a local college about once a year, and I tell them to find out if school nutrition is truly their passion, because we don’t do it for the money. We do it for the program and the kids. Will child nutrition motivate you to get out of bed in the morning? I decided I wanted to work in school nutrition during my first rotation in my dietetic internship after I graduated from college. I worked in Jordan School District in West Jordan, Utah, in a high free/reduced school, and I fell in love with the program. I saw hungry kids, and many of them would come and thank us for their meals. Marilyn Clayton, the nutrition services director, asked me about my goals, and I told her I wanted to be a director. She said, “Let’s work on it.” Marilyn always inspired me to do more, to learn more, to aim higher, and she showed me with her actions how to get to where I wanted to be. I became a dietitian for the Jordan district, which eventually split into two districts. The new district that formed in 2009 was Canyons School District—I applied for the director role and got it. I built my team and our department from the ground up. On Leadership As a new director, I began attending SNA of Utah conferences. I was asked three times to run for vice president [which automatically leads to president]. I declined, because I wanted to get to know my job, but finally accepted and was the state vice president in 2013-14, becoming president in 2015-16. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I ran! The best part has been getting to know so many SNA members in Utah and from around the country, gaining advice and celebrating success. I like the networking opportunities and being able to benchmark our program’s progress with other districts. Being a leader isn’t about you as an individual. It’s about the group of people you represent, and as a state leader, it’s about doing what’s best for our state and building a better future for the Association. Leaders energize and motivate people and help them grow. They push from behind rather than from the front. I like a quote from President John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” As a leader, I have good emotional intelligence skills in communicating and knowing how to work with people in a way that makes the most sense. That includes being accessible. Intimidation doesn’t work. You must trust your people. I’ve learned to trust my leadership abilities, too, and know that I can do the job, without getting intimidated. It’s OK not to know everything. Some people may think a leader has immediate answers, but for me, it’s sometimes most effective to push the pause button to educate myself and do some research. I’ve also learned to remain humble, because there’s always room to improve. On Goals When setting goals, you need a vision and to know how you want to get there. Goals have to be realistic and measurable. If you don’t write down a goal, then it’s only a desire. Professionally, I want to find a good balance for my team to increase employee morale. We’re in the second year of a labor shortage, and it’s been hard on my staff. I want them to still find it rewarding to come to work and have that passion. I also set personal goals for myself, and we set annual goals as a family, too. This year, I’m focusing on leaving work behind when I’m at home so I can be fully present and devote my full attention to my wife, Peny, and our kids, Sofia and Julian. We’ve set goals to make our time together more meaningful. We try to do more together, even if it’s something simple, like all taking a walk. It’s helped us be stronger as a family. It ties in to always aiming higher and becoming better. Disconnecting from work when I’m at home is a small token of gratitude for everything my wife and kids do for me. On Achievement Two achievements have shaped who I am. When I was 19, I left home from Chile and everything I knew to be a volunteer missionary in Colombia. Before that, I studied law. I wasn’t passionate about it, but I knew it would be a career that paid well. During my mission, I realized I wanted to make a difference and that I needed to find a new passion. After my mission, I left college in Chile and moved to the United States. Going to school to become a dietitian has been my other greatest accomplishment. When I was preparing for my mission, I had an instructor who had a motto that I adopted for myself: “Higher, stronger, better.” For me, this means that if you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything. You need to know your weaknesses and how to make them strengths. Also, there’s always room for improvement. You can still learn more and do better. As told to Cecily Walters, a freelance writer in Portland, Ore., and an SN contributing editor. 30-SECOND BIO CHILDHOOD HOMETOWN Santiago, Chile CURRENT HOMETOWN Draper, Utah EDUCATION B.S. in Dietetics, Brigham Young University; M.B.A., University of Phoenix YEARS IN SCHOOL NUTRITION 10 TITLE Nutrition Services Director EMPLOYER Canyons School District, Sandy, Utah PROGRAM AT A GLANCE 43 schools, 33,000 students, 275 employees, $12-13 million budget. Offers breakfast, lunch, afterschool snack and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. SNA LEADERSHIP Immediate Past President, SNA of Utah FAMILY Wife Peny, Children Sofia (4) and Julian (21 months)
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