#SNFTuesday Scholarship Spotlight: Mary Ellen Gipson, Nutrition Coordinator and Co-Wellness Coordinator, Jackson R2 School District, Missouri

Ellen Gipson has been with the Jackson R2 School District since 2013, taking the job right out of college. As a registered and licensed dietitian, her dual positions with the district—as nutrition and co-wellness coordinator—ensure that her day is never dull.

“I get to do a lot of different things, which is great!” said Ellen by phone, before the Thanksgiving holiday. “My main focus is menu planning and recipe development for the whole district. I also work in classrooms doing a couple of programs with nutrition education, like Fruit of the Month with taste-testing and a nutrition education program in an elementary school classroom. I get to talk to P.E. classes about sports nutrition, do assemblies in the elementary school with fun activities and exercise components—quite a wide variety!”

Ellen w fruit barAs soon as Ellen started working at Jackson R2 schools her director got her involved in SNA. Eager to learn more, Ellen joined the association knowing that the resources available would be useful in her new career.

“I became a member right away,” said Ellen. “[My director] has always been very active; she always attended the conferences, and listened in on the webinars, and she’d done the educational programs—that was a resource I was very interested in as well. And as a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, I know how important it is to have that national organization working together, having a cohesive voice, and using that public influence to educate and advocate.”

It was also her director that encouraged Ellen to seek out and apply for scholarships through SNA at the state level; once she started researching, Ellen realized that scholarships were available through SNF at the local level as well.

“I was awarded two separate scholarships—the Annual Fund, and a Schwann’s award—and the same application qualified you for both, which was great! I applied online over Christmas break last year. The application was really easy. I got through my undergrad by relying on scholarships, which are a great resource that a lot of people just don’t take advantage of—and [applying] is an opportunity for you to promote yourself, to show your academic worth. Everyone has a story to tell, and you just have to show what makes you unique.”

All of that practice has paid off—Ellen now puts those skills to use writing grants for funding to benefit the district.

“We just received a grant from the St. Louis Dairy Council to start a Second Chance breakfast. We purchased a breakfast cart—the kids say it looks like a hot dog cart, but it’s really snazzy!—and it’s been quite successful. On our first day we started off with 38 kids, and by Day Six we were up to 63 kids for second chance breakfast; we maintained our numbers in the cafeteria, which means our breakfast  numbers have almost doubled in a week. So those writing skills are essential!”

The scholarship awards allowed Ellen to complete her final semester at the University of Alabama, which she is wrapping up now; she will graduate on December 12, and is looking forward to her future in school nutrition.

“I’ve already turned in my last assignment! The scholarships allowed me to pay for my final class, and I’m finishing up my master’s degree in health education,” said Ellen. “I’m excited to be in school nutrition at such a young age, and to have such a long future ahead of me. I think it’s very helpful to have a registered dietitian on staff to work with the menus, and to support the guideline changes. When you have someone on staff who can explain nutrition research, who can educate the students and the community, it’s a great advantage.”

Donate to the Annual Fund to help support school nutrition!

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