Meet 2017 Kathleen Stitt Award Winner Dr. David H. Holben, University of Mississippi

The Kathleen Stitt Award is presented annually by the School Nutrition Foundation, presented to a graduate student or faculty member participating in the Child Nutrition Showcase at the Annual National Conference. The $500 prize is used to help defray travel costs associated with attending the conference, where the winner presents their poster alongside the projects of their colleagues. Today we will meet the 2017 Kathleen Stitt Award Winner, David H. Holben (Ph.D, RDN, LD, FAND), Department Chair and Professor, University of Mississippi, Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management.

About Kathleen Stitt

After earning her Ph.D in Nutrition from Ohio State, Dr. Stitt held the position of department chair at the University of Alabama for fifteen years and was an active member of professional organizations like the School Nutrition Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Learn more about Dr. Stitt and her eponymous award in our 2015 interview.

About David H. Holben

Dr. David H. Holben describes himself as a “child of the child nutrition program,” and says the experience of eating free lunch throughout his elementary and high school career makes his involvement in child nutrition even more special.

“I saw those benefits for myself,” he recalls. “The child nutrition workers knew me by name.”

A registered dietitian for 31 years, Holben’s research relates to food insecurity and health outcomes. He has been a member of the School Nutrition Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics for six years, and joined School Nutrition Association a year ago; his first Annual National Conference in 2016 was also something of a homecoming, says Holben.

“I was an Army dietitian, stationed at Fort Sam Houston, so last year’s ANC was just great because I was in a town I love and was able to go to some of those places I enjoyed while I was at Fort Sam.”

Today, Holben teaches at Ol’ Miss—which is also the home of the Institute of Child Nutrition—including the orientation to school nutrition management course. It was his involvement in the Institute, as well as urging from colleagues like Kevin Fowler and Penny McConnell, which prompted Holben to join SNA.

“I thought it would be better for me to be really involved in the organization that focuses on school nutrition,” he explained. “One of the things I love about SNA is that diverse audience—front-line workers … and top-level directors.”

About the Project: “Farm to YOUth! – A Produce Education Program for Youth & Families in a Rural, Appalachian Mississippi School District

Holben and his team developed a six-week farm-to-youth program that included both nutrition education and produce delivery that would allow some of the students to receive and take home fresh produce to their families. When the project was in early stages, Holben said a discussion with Donna Martin—president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, director of school nutrition in Burke County Schools (Georgia), and SNA member—prompted him to make an important change to the planned program.

“We were in a meeting in San Antonio, Texas, last year, and Donna said, ‘Dave, I suggest you don’t just send home a basket of apples, you send home other things. If you provide things to go along with the apples, maybe it will introduce the children and their families to different things.”,” recalled Holben. “So—that’s exactly what we did!”

Over the course of six weeks Holben and his staff conducted nutrition education based around a featured, fresh ingredient—think pineapple, mango, and cucumbers. On Tuesday the new item would be introduced, and on Thursday it would be incorporated into a recipe (e.g. mango-cilantro salsa, cucumber-tomato salad), and on Friday students from one of the three participating schools would receive a backpack of ingredients—and nutrition/recipe information—to take home to their families over the weekend.

“We based this on Social Cognitive Theory, trying to change the food environment in the home,” said Holben. “Sending produce home with the kids, and providing them with thigs to make them more likely to use the food at home.” They also sent home items like cartoon-branded vegetable scrubbers to engage students and make the process more fun.

One aspect of the project Holben thinks can be easily replicated is the school/university/industry/community-partnership aspect. Produce was provided—and processed—by a local Piggly Wiggly grocery store, while Monsanto provided funding as an industry partner through the Food & Nutrition Security Support Fund.

“Our industry partners in no way dictated what we were going to do; we were not required to produce or use [particular] results,” said Holben. “The next phase of this project is instead of using schools with backpack delivery, we’re actually going to try it at the Piggly Wiggly, [offering participants] a deep discount on produce to make it more likely that they will pick it up.”

The assistance of school nutrition professionals was also an essential part of the Farm-to-YOUth project, says Holben.

“We got to know them—that was important. We were going to be on their turf, interacting with them,” he recalled. “I think it’s important to demonstrate that you’re willing to do anything they do.” In his case, Holben said that involved things as simple as listening, and cleaning trays when an employee called in sick.

Looking ahead to ANC, Holben looks forward to sharing his findings with his new SNA colleagues, as well as taking advantage of the training and education sessions available to him as a member.

“There is a leadership pre-conference session with a VP from Schwan’s that I’m looking forward to,” said Holben. “I think it’s really cool that SNA is interested in improving leadership skills. [ANC] brings together diverse groups with the ultimate shared goal of improving child nutrition—we all have that same goal in mind, and that’s what I love most about the conference.”

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