Meet 2016 Kathleen Stitt Award Winner Tracee Watkins

The Kathleen Stitt Award, presented annually by the School Nutrition Foundation, is given to a graduate student or faculty member participating in the Child Nutrition Showcase at the Annual National Conference. The $500 award prize is used to help defray travel costs to attend ANC, where the winner presents their poster alongside the projects of their colleagues. Today we will meet our 2016 Kathleen Stitt Award winner, Tracee Watkins. Watkins is currently a doctoral student at Kansas State University, where she is pursuing her degree in hospitality and dietetics administration from the College of Human Ecology, with an emphasis on food safety and defense from the Food Science Institute.

About Kathleen Stitt

Dr. Stitt earned her PhD in Nutrition at Ohio State, held the position of department chair at the University of Alabama for fifteen years, and was an active member of professional organizations such as the School Nutrition Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. When we spoke with Dr. Stitt about the award she established, she shared the following:

“One of the biggest challenges in getting people to attend professional conferences is the cost. I was able to receive awards in graduate school so I felt like I needed to help others in that regard. Many master degree students need [financial] help to present their research, and I hope the award encourages more graduate students to go to professional meetings.”

About Tracee Watkins

When we sat down to chat with Tracee about her project and winning the Stitt Award, our first question was about her education. Where did she go to school, and what did she study?

Watkins at ANC16“Well, I kind of like school.” laughed Watkins, before sharing her bona fides. “I have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Mississippi State University. I have a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from Mississippi University for Women, and a master’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University as well. Now I am working on my doctorate. They all have a lot to do with food.”

Watkins credits her professors and mentors for encouraging her to become an SNA member, as well as apply for the Stitt Award.

“Dr. Ethan Bergman encouraged me to join SNA in 2013, when I worked at Central Washington University. Dr. Paola Paez works at The Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs (Center) with me, and she encouraged me very strongly to apply for the Stitt Award. Dr. Paez was a Stitt awardee in 2011, and is a champion of both SNA and the scholarship; she let me know how wonderful it was for her to be able to travel to ANC and to present to SNA’s members.”

Time & Temperature Control of Foods in the Summer Food Service Program

Tracee’s project and poster are entitled “Time and Temperature Controls of Foods in the Summer Food Service Program.” The project was funded by the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN).

“I have an assistantship at KSU while I’m going to school, and I work for the Center,” said Watkins, who became an SNA member in 2013. “They frequently collaborate with ICN, and this project was a great opportunity to participate in field observations, which I don’t get to do very often.”

In her research, Watkins took a closer look at the effectiveness of time and temperature control for safety in regard to foods served during the Summer Food Service Program. Given the diverse food preparation and delivery methods used in the SFSP, Watkins wanted to see what effect, if any, this diversity in combination with high summer temperatures had on the effectiveness of food safety standards. While the results showed that SFSP time and temperature control measures met USDA standards, some improvements could be made.

“The programs are storing, preparing, and transporting foods, often outdoors, so it’s critical to maintain food safety standards and refine training to reflect those high standards. Cold foods are most at risk,” said Watkins, “as they are going to be affected by higher summer temperatures. Additional training in usage of thermometers and monitoring temperatures would be useful.”

What’s Next?

Watkins is keeping her focus on school nutrition for now as she conducts a survey on best practices for serving milk outside the cafeteria. As breakfast-in-the-classroom fans, we can’t wait to see her results.

“We have surveys in the field, and once we get them back and look at school’s normal practices, we will conduct studies simulating serving milk outside of the cafeteria setting to see which practices maintain milk at the lowest temperatures,” explained Watkins.

As for her post-doctorate career, Watkins is still considering her options.

“I’m really open to seeing what is out there. When I first started my doctorate I thought I would probably want to go back and teach again at the post-secondary level. The longer I’m here the more interested I am in the USDA, or similar organization. “

To learn more about the Kathleen Stitt Award, visit the School Nutrition Foundation scholarship page.

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