Mary Lou Kennedy: Handle With Care
Along with the garden, Kennedy is committed to providing as much local produce as possible. The department partnered with Farm Fresh Connection, a program that provides resources for local farmers to help get their products to customers. Farm Fresh Connections sends weekly memos about what's on the market. Last year, about 24% of Kennedy's purchases was local.
"The Bowdoin garden produce and the produce we purchased from Farm Fresh Connection local farmers provided 38% of our total produce," Kennedy says. "I think another thing I've always tried to do is develop community connections. That's why we started these ‘feed a farmer' lunches. We bring farmers in and we talk about what they're growing, what their challenges are and what the students like to eat. Students from one of the environmental studies classes sit in on the meetings with us and ask all sorts of questions. This gives us the opportunity to get to know the farmers better. You hear what they're doing and you want to make an effort to connect with them."
Another sustainability initiative Kennedy is proud of is the department's vendor sustainability survey.
"I had heard that Stonyfield Farm had a huge sustainability program," Kennedy says. "I thought we should talk to our vendors about what they're doing so we can keep the communication going. So we came up with a survey for our vendors that asked about their sustainability programs. When a vendor sends out a proposal, we have them fill the survey out. The vendors love it. We thought there'd be some pushback, but they love to share this information and it's made them more cognizant of what they're doing."
Satisfying students: Kennedy credits a close working relationship with Bowdoin's students as a major part of the department's successes.
"We're very fortunate that Bowdoin is a small college," Kennedy says. "I think being in a small location and not taking advantage of the community connection would be a big disservice. I think just being a part of a learning environment is such a wonderful place to be because the students have so many ideas."
One idea that came from students that has become a huge success for the department is Super Snack. Super Snack is a late-night dining option, held from 10:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m., Thursday through Saturday, that has become more like a campus party than just another dining opportunity.
"The students love Super Snack," Kennedy says. "One of my concerns was that I wanted students with board plans to use as many of the meals as possible. Of the 150 students living in facilities on campus who aren't required to purchase a plan, only nine of them don't have one. So I thought we needed more meal opportunities so students could use all their meals. The students suggested nighttime, so we developed Super Snack. We serve simple snack foods such as grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, fruit, cheese and crackers and cereal. Of the 1,700 students on campus, last week's meal counts for Super Snack were 560 for one day. It's incredibly communal."
Another thing Kennedy has changed with the students in mind is how Dining Services approaches themed meals. The department used to host its own themed meals, but several years ago, Kennedy decided to let students plan their own theme meals.
"We always had student groups coming in and saying they wanted to put on a small theme meal," Kennedy says. "So we started encouraging them to bring it into the dining hall and we'd make the whole dinner whatever theme they wanted. Students work with our chef and bring in recipes. It keeps our ethnic menus authentic."
Catherine Longley, senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer for Bowdoin, and Kennedy's boss, says Kennedy's efforts to improve food quality have really made her stand out.
"When it comes to foodservices, Mary Lou knows her stuff," Longley says. "She stays ahead of the latest trends and is often the go-to person for innovative ideas. Mary Lou always strives for the optimal dining experience, and the food is truly delicious."
Renaissance woman: Learning is something that Kennedy has always been passionate about. Kennedy grew up in Burlington, Vt. She got her start in foodservice in high school working in a hospital kitchen making feeding tube formulas. She earned her degree in dietetics from the University of Vermont and then completed a one-year dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital before becoming a registered dietitian. She switched to colleges when she became assistant to the director of dining at Wellesley College, before coming to Bowdoin as assistant director in 1986.
"I love the job because my internship was a generalist internship and through that I discovered that I love to know a little about everything," Kennedy says. "I like to organize systems so that they work. I want to give my staff the tools, but still let them have ownership over their jobs."
Gaillard says Kennedy's management style is the driving force behind making Dining Services as strong as any academic department at the college.
"I think Mary Lou's effectiveness is enhanced because her management skills are so well balanced," Gaillard says. "I've worked with directors who were extremely talented in one area, like operations or marketing, but they fell apart in other areas. Mary Lou doesn't make a big deal out of it, but she does everything well."