Registered dietitian Andrew Ashelford has a lot on his plate. A supervisor in Lincoln Public Schools, Ashelford oversees the nutrition at eighteen buildings in his district of just under 40,000 students, not to mention his duties assisting with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program. With a full-time job and a family of his own, Andrew is also a part-time graduate student, pursuing his master’s degree in business administration through the Southern New Hampshire University. We sat down to talk with Andrew about Lincoln Public Schools, what it’s like to go back to school while working full-time, and how a School Nutrition Foundation scholarship is helping him pursue his goals.
Beyond Breakfast: Andrew, tell us about your background and education, and how you came to work in school foodservice.
Andrew Ashelford: I applied to internships that focused on foodservice management. The people in foodservice had really good hearts—they stood out from some of the folks with a more clinical background in dietetics. I really like working with people, and the people you surround yourself with really help you succeed.
I was selected for the internship in Sarasota [District Schools] and then really fell in love with the nutrition behind it, and the business aspect, too. I like cost-analysis and time studies!
BB: Can you tell us a little bit more about Lincoln Public Schools?
AA: We have just under 40,000 students in the district; we feed about 25,000 kids for lunch on a daily basis, and maybe 6500 at breakfast. This year we implemented a breakfast-in-a-bag type program. It’s too early to tell overall numbers, but we are trying to get participation numbers up. We do a lot of programs, [such as] early childhood and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable. We have seven high schools, eleven middle schools, and 38 elementary schools.
BB: How did you become involved in the School Nutrition Association?
AA: I first became an SNA member during my internship in Florida, in 2008-09. Then I came back to Nebraska, and I’ve been a member since coming to Lincoln—so that’s the last three years. SNA is a great association for people in our profession to be involved with. They get everyone at every level involved, and I think that’s really important.
BB: And how did you find out about the scholarship opportunities through the School Nutrition Foundation?
AA: My director made me aware [of the scholarships]. She approached everyone in the department, and I thought it was a really great idea. As I was applying I noticed = an employee of my school district was a winner the previous year, and I thought that was neat. My director pushed us and made us aware, and I’m glad she did.
BB: What scholarship(s) did you apply for and receive? Was the application process simple, or did you encounter any difficulties?
AA: I got the Schwan’s scholarship, a $500 [award]. That will help me while I work on my master’s in business administration. I really want to focus on the administration side of school foodservice. So being able to take leadership classes, accounting, and financial classes I didn’t take in undergrad, I can be more of a leader in the field.
I’m on my fourth class, and I have about ten more left—I’m about 30 percent done! I’m taking a business law class right now that’s really opening up my eyes to administration. There are so many things you don’t think about until you take a class like that. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’m almost turning a new leaf with the new things I’m learning.
The application process is straightforward, and I liked how it’s all online: you fill out and submit everything online. You can upload your transcripts which makes it really simple. As long as I’m working at school I’ll continue to apply [for scholarships]–it’s a great opportunity.
I think for anyone who wants to get started working on any degree, SNA/SNF scholarships are a great opportunity to help them get started. Education is important, so for anyone to take that next step forward it’s great.
BB: Going forward, what are some of the big changes you see on the horizon for school nutrition professionals, and how do you propose meeting those challenges?
AA: I got started in [school foodservice] 2012, which is about when all the new government regulations came into effect. I think the biggest thing is managing change within a department. Every year we have something new; this year it’s professional standards, which isn’t on our staff per se but it’s on our administration team to complete that [process]. Managing the regulation changes–making fruits and veggies, [meeting] the sodium content—we have a lot of employees with our district that have been here for twenty or so years, and when you do a job for that long and all of a sudden you have these big changes, it can take time to let all that set in. That’s our job going forward.