Director of sustainability redefines University of Michigan dining

university michigan hat coffee cookies

When it comes to fostering engagement in sustainability efforts, you can step up and do the work, or wait for it to happen to you, says Keith Soster, director of sustainability and student engagement for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Here’s a look at Soster’s job description, and how the position has redefined the program.

Q: How did your position come to be?

A: Before Michigan Dining went through a reorganization, requests for student and community partnerships went to whoever could be reached. They wanted someone to be the face of student and community connections—someone who had a background in food operations and could guide the work. I was able to step into that position. Now, I’m a resource to students on campus who want to incorporate the dining program into their classwork, and to student and community organizations who want to partner with us.

Q: What are some of the projects you’ve spearheaded?

A: This last fall semester, we either sponsored or collaborated with 24 class projects, 10 independent sustainability student projects, 28 student organization projects, six chef demos and 16 speaking engagements. That’s nearly double what we had last year.

Q: How has your role impacted the dining program?

A: Part of my role is to be able to communicate across Michigan Dining and beyond. It’s difficult to set up goals about what that culture looks like, but, per a recent report, students are more aware about sustainability because of how far Michigan Dining has come.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chefs

We started inviting chefs and FSDs from other districts to come prepare lunch. Through featuring different chefs and chef-inspired meals, I’ve found the students have been looking forward to coming into the cafeteria. They are willing to try new things with crazy names, and to ask for their favorite outside items turned healthy.

Ideas and Innovation
tapas

I’ve created a high school “focus group” to see what future college students will want in terms of foodservice. This year, I called up two now-seniors from the last group to get 10 of their friends together. I also include a sophomore or two so that I always have a contact for next year. Tapas, grain bowls and late-night breakfast all originated from this group.

Ideas and Innovation
making meals

This summer, we teamed up with a church to deliver meals to three housing projects. We brought the meals to the church, and then the church recruited volunteers to deliver the meals to the children. We’ve been very impressed with this new model, and it shows great promise in getting meals to children who otherwise would not be able to leave their housing project.

Industry News & Opinion
sharing love

Having never personally experienced a hurricane, I can only imagine the horrors faced by the millions of people whose lives were affected by Harvey and Irma in late August and early September. It’s a group that comprises uncounted noncommercial operations, including Houston Independent School District, which serves 215,000 students.

But from that tragedy has come one of the most impressive feats of foodservice I’ve seen since coming on board at this magazine, partially spearheaded by Nutrition Officer Betti Wiggins , who only just joined the district. For the entire school year,...

FSD Resources