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.”

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
quinoa bowl

In a time of growing health consciousness, it might not be enough anymore for food to be merely filling. According to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report , diners are looking for food with a function, such as those with high protein content, immunity-boosting properties, antioxidants, probiotics and more. The data suggests 63% of consumers see these foods as healthier than those without any specific nutritional function—and would be more likely to buy them.

But are those stated preferences translating on an operational level? There, the answer is less clear. Baby...

Ideas and Innovation
phone bed call sick

We make people call and directly talk to their boss or supervisor if they are reporting an absence for a shift. While it is more cumbersome, it is a conscious decision. We have adapted and implemented electronic methods to obtain efficiencies in just about every other functional area, except for electronic absence reporting systems. The direct supervisor can put more pressure on an employee to show up—especially those with some form of the “Super Bowl plague”—than any electronic system can.

Menu Development
ranch dressing chicken fingers

While salad bars are often the first place K-12 operators look to incorporate more fresh produce, few go as far as making their own salad dressings. But last fall, in a continuing effort to transition from prepackaged meals to an all-scratch menu, Mark Augustine, executive chef of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools, switched to concocting four varieties in-house—ranch, Caesar, Italian and Asian vinaigrette. The move, designed to eliminate artificial ingredients and lower fat and sodium, presented the biggest challenge when it came to ranch dressing, the school-...

Ideas and Innovation
business card

We get the new folks abridged business cards saying, “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I work in nutrition department.” We thought it would give them more ownership of the program and elevate their status and position in the organization. It also gives our team more self-confidence and self-worth as an employee, which can be a challenge with foodservice workers.

FSD Resources