The Alumni Connection

The Alumni Connection Dining Services at North Carolina State seeks ways to boost student perception of sustainability program.

Signage points out local suppliers.

RALEIGH, N.C.—Dining Services staff at North Carolina State University believe they have the best sustainability program nobody knows about. So staff dietitian Lisa Eberhart, R.D., is leading an effort to change that by highlighting university alumni who are making the program work.

“My Roots are at NC State” has been developed to call attention to things the department has already been doing but to little fanfare. These include purchasing locally grown, raised or manufactured items, and partnering with North Carolina growers, producers and manufacturers, many of whom either are run by or employ the university’s graduates.

“We conducted a survey with students and discovered that they didn’t realize what we were doing with sustainability, even though we did a lot of things and spent a lot of money doing so,” says Eberhart. “So we decided to highlight alumni who were helping us achieve our goals, to try to get students to see that they could probably work in these industries, and to see that what we purchase and the different companies we partner with really are from North Carolina.”

The campaign has included posters, visits from alumni and an All Carolinas Meal, held last month. The first alumnus profiled was Amy Brooks, a 2007 graduate whose family, Brooks Contractor, takes all of Dining Services’s waste and composts it.

“We are completely compostable in both the front and the back of the house in all our dining halls,” says Eberhart, “and we really wanted our students to know that we do go the extra mile for sustainability and that we do use an NC State alum’s composting facility. We are going to highlight other alumni in the same way, with posters along the walls in the halls. Our goal is to highlight a different alum every month, and there is no shortage of people willing to be profiled.”

Another marketing effort Dining Services has done is to erect a large chalkboard in each of the dining halls that lists all local products and where they come from.
“Now, students will say to us things like, ‘That’s where I grew up,’ or ‘I know where that is’ or ‘My friend’s father works for that company,’” Eberhart notes. “It’s made a real connection with them.”

Eberhart even hired a recent graduate, Chris Dunham, to help administer the program.

“Chris, who was graduating with a degree in food science, was already working for me as an intern,” she explains. “I hired him originally to source local products for us, and the job has morphed into this.” Dining Services has applied for a grant from the state that would fund the program—and Dunham’s job—for two more years. “I think it’s a really good idea to have the state fund this, because we are doing our part to promote local products and local businesses.”  

Whether all of this is having a meaningful impact on students isn’t yet known. “We have hired the company that did the original survey to do it again,” says Eberhart, “and we hope we will be able to use the results to measure our success.”

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