Terry Baker: Healthy attitude
At a Glance
- 24,000 students (6,000 on meal plan)
- $22 million budget
- 32 dining choices
- 160 full-time staff, 600-plus student employees
Terry Baker has transformed dining services at Oklahoma State University by:
- Developing Choose Orange, an award-winning healthy dining program
- Designing a 10-unit food court for the Student Union that helped the facility win “Most Amazing Student Union” from BestCollegeReviews.org
- Supporting sustainability through the Farm Fresh, Made In Oklahoma and Farmers’ Market programs
Although it is difficult to rank such things, University Dining Services (UDS) at Oklahoma State University might just be the most proactive school in the nation when it comes to health, wellness and sustainability. Under the guidance of Director Terry Baker, UDS has implemented an array of award-winning programs designed to support either the physical health of the students or the environmental and economic health of the community.
From Farm to University Dining, which took the grand prize in Oklahoma State’s first Creativity Challenge in 2008, to its Choose Orange program, which helped UDS win gold in NACUFS’ 2013 Nutrition Awards competition, Baker’s leadership has paid big dividends for dining services and its student customers. (The Creativity Challenge is a universitywide competition designed to inspire students and employees to come up with ideas to “make OSU a national leader in creativity and innovation,” according to the university.)
Robert Snead, assistant director for UDS, says the department feeds off Baker’s energy and drive.
“Overall, her multitasking and organizational skills are amazing,” Snead says. “It seems like we have a million things we have to accomplish, and yet she’s always on top of things. She always knows what’s going on with the management staff. Although she delegates, she’s not someone who sits back and lets things happen. She’s always around, very much in the mix.”
For her part, Baker says the programs she has championed are simply the result of her trying to give student customers what they are asking for.
“Students are more interested in what they eat and where it comes from,” she explains. “They really want to know whether it’s sustainable or healthy for them. We’re just trying to provide them with that information.”
Foodie road trips
Baker, a native of upstate New York, says she fell in love with food after a “favorite aunt” chose her to be a traveling companion for a series of vacations to Europe and the Caribbean.
“We traveled a lot and I got to experience foods in different parts of the world,” Baker recalls. “It really opened my eyes to the different flavors and experiences you can have.”
Baker earned an undergraduate degree in food and beverage management from Cornell University and took a foodservice job at SUNY-Brockport, outside of Rochester, N.Y. She worked at Brockport for 20 years, while earning an MBA from the Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester.
Seven years ago, Baker relocated to Oklahoma, working for a school district for one year before getting the job as director of UDS at Oklahoma State. She came in with a hands-on approach to making Oklahoma State a healthier campus.
One of her first initiatives, in collaboration with Veda Hsu—then an assistant foodservice manager and now the manager of operations at Kerr-Drummond Dining—was Farm to University Dining, which started in 2008. The proposal reflected Baker’s and Hsu’s belief in the value of supporting the local economy and educating students about sustainability.
That proposal has morphed into three related programs: Farm Fresh, Made In Oklahoma and Farmers’ Markets. In 2012, UDS spent one-third of its budget on sustainable foods—$100,000 of it on organic or Fair Trade items—and $1.8 million on items grown, made or processed in the state.
Farm Fresh introduces students to a variety of locally grown items, by incorporating them in menu items, offering students samples and providing them with nutritional information and even recipes incorporating the foods. Made In Oklahoma brings individual vendors onto campus each month to meet with students and talk about their products. Farmers’ Markets are held every Thursday from August through October on the plaza of the Student Union. This year, six farmers and one local jewelry maker sold their wares.