In 2008, Amy Keeler decided she was ready for a change. After 23 years working at a country club—as a chef, and in the front of the house—Keeler was looking for a new challenge.
“I’d been in foodservice since I was a senior in high school,” Amy told us. “I went to culinary school right after high school, and worked in a country club setting for 23 years. I was a chef, I was a club manager for a while, and then I decided I wanted to make a change.”
Since foodservice is what she knew and loved, school foodservice seemed like a good fit. Today, Amy is the Director of Food Services for the Brownsville Area School District in Pennsylvania; she also recently went back to school to pursue her bachelor’s degree, with some help from a School Nutrition Foundation scholarship.
“I’m pursuing a bachelor’s in foodservice management from Johnson & Wales University, and I’m doing it all online,” said Amy. “An interesting twist in my story is that I was looking at [Johnson & Wales] when I was a senior in high school; I was interested in going, but wasn’t able to at that time and got my associate’s degree from the local community college. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to go back and get my bachelor’s. I married, had a child, raised a family, and one day I got a postcard from Johnson & Wales about their online program for those who had a culinary degree and wanted a bachelor’s. The timing was perfect—my daughter had just been married, and I thought ‘Here’s my chance’—it was amazing.”
Though she was a bit apprehensive about returning to school after so many years, Amy felt comfortable and familiar with the online class format, after seeing her daughter take a few.
“I’m fairly comfortable on a computer, and I thought, ‘I’ll just figure it out!’” laughed Amy. There was one other pressing issue, however—finances.
“The only thing in the way was the money,” Amy recalled. “That’s when I saw that scholarships were available through SNA and SNF, and I thought ‘What the heck, it can’t hurt to apply.’ I was totally amazed when I got the scholarship! It was just a blessing.”
At work Amy oversees about 1650 students and 17 employees in four buildings, so she’s taking her degree one class at a time to keep it manageable.
“It’s been a very smooth transition,” said Keeler, of becoming a part-time student as well as a full-time school nutrition professional. “I’m comfortable with it now, and I’m glad I jumped in and did it—life is too short to not!”
Whether you are pursuing a lifelong dream, or reevaluating your career in light of the new professional standards, Amy says an SNF scholarship can help you achieve your goals.
“The new professional standards will definitely be a challenge, and a lot of people are going to be in my shoes—folks who have been in foodservice a long time, but don’t have that piece of paper,” said Amy. “These scholarships will help people advance their education, and that will have a kind of trickle-down effect, where I can do my job better, which will help my employees do better, and ultimately the kids do better at the end of that line.
Finally, Amy urged other SNA members to take full advantage of all of the resources available to them.
“I couldn’t do this without the financial awards I’ve been privileged enough to receive. I really hope [people] realize how impactful their [Annual Fund] donation is—not only to me. I encourage [all members] to take advantage of all that SNA offers–the training opportunities, the networking, it’s all so important. My SNA membership has been very valuable for me, and really helped me make that change to school foodservice, to change, and to grow. Get involved, take advantage—it’s beneficial in so many ways!”