More Diploma Dreams

In the June/July 2016 issue of SchoolNutrition, author Penny McLaren shared the “Diploma Dreams” of six school nutrition professionals who have completed or are currently working toward a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Our print edition didn’t have the space to include three additional stories that are sure to inspire you!

Andrew Ashelford, RD
Supervisor, Lincoln(Neb.) Public Schools
Working toward a master’s degree

Andrew Ashelford lives in Nebraska, but he is taking classes for his master’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University—online, of course. “I did a lot of research before enrolling,” he explains. Ashelford made his decision based on the school having a good reputation, its non-profit status and that fact that it offered the management curriculum he sought.

At present, Ashelford is working on a master’s degree in business, which he started in 2014. When he was an undergraduate, he thought that it would be helpful to have a business degree. “But I knew that goal would only get harder as I got older.” So, he got started. Currently about halfway through the program, he plans to finish in the next 18 months. Time management is a key skill. “It is tough to manage, but I just take it one day at a time.”

Ashelford says he understands the dietitian side of the school nutrition business, “and now I am learning the business side. I am doing more financial work and management.” His diploma dreams are definitely worth the effort,” he asserts. He has especially liked classes in accounting, financial management, business law, because he can apply it to his work in school foodservice. “You get out of it what you put in,” Ashelford notes.

That said, his honest assessment is that “online classes are not for everyone. You must stay on top of the work, and give yourself enough time to complete it. That means putting in about 15 hours a week. I try to stay a day ahead of when things are due. That helps me to stay on pace. The more time you put in, the better it is.”

Ashelford encourages other SNA members to apply for SNF scholarships, as he did. “You just need to get your references, and write an essay. The process is very easy to do, and only takes a few hours.” Overall, he appreciated the fact that education is one of the foundational pillars of SNA. After all, Ashelford notes, “The job is not just about cooking food.”

Julie Boettger, PhD, RD
Foodservice Director, School City of Hammond, Ind.
Completed a doctoral degree

Julie Boettger was working on industry side of the school nutrition fence, as a consultant for inTEAM Associates, when she decided to go for her doctoral degree. “My goal was to elevate my level of expertise, as well as obtain a credential that would recognize that accomplishment,” Boettger explains.

She earned her PhD from the Iowa State University Child Nutrition Program Leadership Academy, a rigorous program that had involved two summers of sessions held on campus in Ames, followed by online work the rest of the year. “It was pretty brutal,” Boettger recalls. “During the first year, we were exhausted. But it was worth the effort. I learned so much from the process, and the contacts have been invaluable. The degree opened doors that would not have been opened to me before. And, most important to me, [I met] the most incredible group of men and women with whom I have ever associated, including the professors, and I learned so much from all of them. We became very close, and keep in touch with each other at SNA events.”

Boettger says the relationships were essential to her staying strong through the tough times. “If you can find a partner to go to school with you, I think you will be more successful and may have more fun. If you do not know anyone before starting, at least find someone in your class that you can team up with,” she advises.

It’s especially helpful during the dissertation process. “During the time working on your dissertation, you have to be motivated, because there is no one ‘making you’ complete any work. It took me three years to complete my dissertation after the Prelim Exam, whereas another [student] completed hers in one year,” she recounts. “The members of your committee are going to have expectations that you have to meet. Find out what those are and then be prepared to meet them. Sometimes they will seem arbitrary but if you want your degree you still need to follow their wishes.” She cites, as an example, “If they want your paper mailed in a hard copy, don't insist on emailing it!

There are lots of timelines that have to be met, notes Boettger of the dissertation process. “Find out early what they are. Be prepared to go with the flow. Set time goals for yourself,” she recommends. “I believe that getting your PhD is really about perseverance. If you get too overloaded and need to take a little time off, do so, but set a specific date to resume working on your dissertation, or you may never start back up again.”

Boettger gives credit to her employer, which gave her paid time away for the summer weeks. Her husband was also supportive of her summer weeks away and subsequent study time. She also relied on her fellow degree-seekers. “Having the relationships [that were] built in the first year of our class helped me stay motivated. As a group, we wanted everyone to finish so we kept each other motivated and reached out to help when we thought someone was stuck,” she notes.

One memory is particularly indelible: "When I was standing outside the room after defending my dissertation, the door opens, and my major professor says, ‘Congratulations, Dr. Boettger.’ I knew it was all worth it.”

Sarah Keen, RD
Foodservice Director,Schuylerville (N.Y.) Central School District
Working toward a master’s degree

Sarah Keen grew up on the East coast, but moved to Seattle when she completed her undergraduate degree in dietetics. While working in a school district as a field supervisor, she discovered that missed hearing more about research in the field. “In a school district, you are more out of the loop on current research than you are in the clinical world,” she notes.

In pursuit of a master’s degree, “I have to do a lot of reading, and one of the great things is that I have access to a whole database of research articles,” Keen says. “I can look at a topic like processed meat, for example, and not only find the reference to a [research study] in a story from The NewYork Times, but I can have access to the [original report] itself by the researchers.”

Still, Keen liked, and wanted to stay, in the school environment. “I thought that if I want to end up in a larger district, a master’s would make me more competitive,” she says, happy to have made the decision.

Keen searched for a graduate program that was a little bit different, which she found in Bastyr University near Seattle. “They had a very interesting program that brought in a lot of disciplines,” she explains. It not only included nutrition, but also naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, midwifery, and public health. But when she opted to move back east to be nearer to her family, she needed to find a different program to complete her degree. She settled on an online program offered by Central Michigan University and hopes to finish by May 2017.

Right now, Keen is taking one class, and will take two next fall. She can take a semester off, if she chooses, and has up to seven years to complete her degree. “It really works with my schedule,” Keen notes. “I can attend class from my computer when I am able. It is a time commitment, but sometimes I can log in for just two hours. I don’t have to drive anywhere, I can be home, and in the five-minute break between classes I can let the dog out and back in.”

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