Dona Zavislan: Budget Cruncher

Out of the wild blue yonder and into the top foodservice administrator slot with the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), Dona Zavislan still marvels at the quirks of fate that landed her there almost 17 years ago.

Born and raised in Colorado, she'd earned her bachelor's degree at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, in food science and nutrition, but really wanted to be a certified public accountant. Foot loose and fancy free following college graduation, she joined the U.S. Air Force, attended officer training school and saw four years of active service both stateside and in Guam before resigning with the rank of captain.

After a brief stint as quality assurance manager checking up on sandwich production being supplied by Walmart's main trucking company in Phoenix, AZ, Zavislan learned of a position overseeing foodservice for 15,000 offenders in 20 DOC facilities back home in Colorado. It was a job in which she could utilize her varied talents and broad-based expertise, while being back home.

After all these years on the job, Zavislan affirms that it's always interesting, although sometimes thankless. "It's a tremendous challenge because you're dealing with very tight budgets so you have to use a lot of creativity to improve things," she says."It's not the kind of field that's attractive to the average person, so in recruiting new staff we're always looking for ways to make them feel valuable."

Most DOC employees are lured by the department's good salaries, decent benefits and a good retirement plan. "They come, myself included, because they need the job," Zavislan notes. "But I'm convinced we need to do more in the way of training and we must give them the tools [including a clean, organized place to work with equipment that works] so they'll stick it out in this tough environment."

Tough environment: Albeit on rare occasions, that environment can become deadly, as it did in the fall of 2002. "One of our foodservice employees was killed in a close custody facility," Zavislan ruefully recalls. "An inmate worker assaulted our employee in the kitchen over the back of the head with a very heavy kettle ladle. While it was determined that this was an incident that was not in any way preventable or the fault of any DOC staff, my boss [one of our newest wardens] and I felt it was very important to visit all DOC facilities to connect with the staff and underscore our concern for their welfare. We also wound up installing a significant number of additional camera systems and tethering some large tools such as kettle ladles."

Dona Zavislan, FSD of the Month, March 2007, Colorado Department of CorrectionsSending a message: Zavislan heads up the department's foodservice and laundry central office with its administrative staff of six in Colorado Springs headquarters, and supports the foodservice staff of 256 paid employees as well as the laundry staff of 38.

More concretely, Zavislan has been steadily ramping up her efforts to mentor and educate staff so that increasing numbers can be considered for promotion. Recently, she and a colleague became certified to teach the FranklinCovey Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The Seven Habits for Managers classes. To date, they have presented the "Managers" class to the foodservice and laundry program supervisors at one facility. "Those who have that aptitude, skill and desire could be future leaders of the department. My role is to motivate and encourage them to take the exams."

Of her own future promotion, Zavislan takes the long and patient view. As a single mom whose high school age daughter is just starting to drive, she's been happy, thus far, to stay close to home in Colorado Springs. Since she works in operations, a promotion could mean transferring to a prison facility. "Here at the central office, I'm able to get things done for foodservice. I'm often in facilities, on average three to four times a month, and it's a big state; some facilities are on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. We at central office exist to support the facilities."

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Risley Dining Room at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has just become 100 percent gluten-free, 14850.com reports.

For the past two years, the university has slowly phased out gluten in the dining hall’s menu by eliminating it in its stir fries, biscuits and brownies.

Instead of offering gluten-free versions of typical college fare, including pizza and pasta, the dining service team aimed for more sophisticated restaurant-style items.

Along with being gluten-free, Risley is also peanut free and tree-nut free.

The dining room is the second college eatery...

Industry News & Opinion

James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., recently hosted a weeklong program called Weigh the Waste, which aimed to show students how much food gets wasted in dining halls, The Breeze reports.

Throughout the week, students placed food they were about to throw away on a scale located near the trash bins at one of their dining halls. At the end of the week, the school tallied the waste and saw that 817 pounds of food had been wasted.

School officials hope that the annual program, which it’s hosted since 2015, will remind dining hall patrons to only take as much food as...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Ideas and Innovation
email computer screen

Communication is key, and [managers] are busy too. One tip I picked up from another director was to label my subject line with the header “action,” “information” or “response” followed by a brief description of the email contents. That way they can filter through their inboxes during their busy days to know which emails need their attention immediately and which they can save to read later.

FSD Resources