Growing up, Sarah Keen had always envisioned herself working in a school, and assumed she would end up becoming a teacher like her mother. However once she got to college, her interest in food began to grow, and Sarah knew she wanted to pursue something that would combine both education and nutrition. Though she was studying to be a dietitian at UMass Amherst, a clinical setting wasn’t quite the right fit for a long-term career.
“In my senior year I worked in the cafeteria with the lunch ladies, in the school where I attended high school,” recalled Sarah, over the phone. “I had so much fun! I analyzed green beans and just had a blast with them. Their foodservice director showed me how to do commodities and menu planning, and that’s when I really got excited and realized what I wanted to do.”
After finishing up her undergrad, Sarah headed west to Seattle, Washington, where she worked for the Highline School District before moving back to New York to be closer to family. During her time in Washington, Sarah was tasked with menu planning, as well as managing allergies and special diets, helping her to prepare for her current position of Director of Food Services in the Schuylerville Central School District in Upstate New York.
“I’m in a much smaller district in my current position, so rather than having specialized duties in menu planning and allergy management, I do everything!” laughed Sarah. “I do menus, paperwork, payroll, bill pay, personnel management, recipe creation—everything! I have two kitchens to supervise, so it’s a small, manageable scale. Sometimes I’m out subbing in the kitchen if I have an employee out!”
With most of the duties of a director on her plate, we had to ask Sarah: why go back to school, and where do you find the time?
“Part of the draw was the [professional standards] requirement to have that masters,” explained Sarah. “I figured I wouldn’t be very competitive in a few years, with just my bachelor’s degree. I love what I’m doing right now, but I can see myself being ready for bigger challenges down the road and a masters will make me more competitive no matter what.”
Sarah is about a third of the way through her master’s degree, which she is pursuing online through Central Michigan University. With an eye toward graduating in 2017, Sarah cites her School Nutrition Foundation scholarship as critical in helping her achieve her goals.
“This scholarship has been so helpful; we’re still paying for my student loan debt, and my husband’s student loan debt from our undergrad, and [we] have that burden eased,” said Sarah. “I’m able to go through this online program a lot more quickly than if I had to pay for it out of pocket, and it’s helping me reach my goals sooner.”
SNA membership was important to Sarah, who had come to know the association through the district-owned membership at her first job.
“In my first week on the job I attended the Washington state conference, which was a great way to get introduced,” recalled Sarah. “I was totally green and didn’t know much about schools at that point, and I met all of these managers and directors from around [the state], and I had a ball. And that’s when I first heard about the scholarships, too.”
After hearing an announcement at the conference about state-level scholarships, it occurred to Sarah that additional funds might be available at the national level and found more scholarship opportunities through the SNA website. Other SNA members should absolutely take the time to fill out a scholarship application, said Sarah.
“I love this field. I’m not a competitive person. I like to share, and find out what works for other people. I could never be in advertising or something,” she laughed. “The scholarships are a wonderful opportunity. I’m grateful for mine, and I hope other members who are going back to school will take advantage of them as well.”