Benefits All Around: The Advantages of Student Interns

Everybody has a list of tasks they’d like to accomplish when time and conditions are perfect, and this is especially true in school nutrition departments. No one is disputing the time and financial limitations felt by this branch of foodservice: Many directors have long lists of projects they’d like to accomplish and implement, but few ways to tackle them. One resource that has proven effective in getting these tasks done are dietetic students serving internships.

Interns offer more than helpful labor opportunities. In the article “Temporary Staff; Lasting Impact,” published in the March edition of School Nutrition, and written by Senior Editor Beth Roessner, the article discusses interesting and unique projects interns are able to accomplish during their rotations. Interns are no longer simply going for coffee runs and making copies: Dietetic interns serving in school nutrition departments are developing real-world career and leadership skills. From the implementation of mobile meal carts to leading staff trainings, dietetic interns can cross off many items from that growing to-do list.

When students intern at school nutrition departments they are gaining valuable skills and insights into a profession that may not have otherwise been accessible. And the benefits aren’t simply one sided to the interns—school nutrition departments benefit, too. Still not convinced of the importance of working with and mentoring these young and budding dietitians? Here are just a few ways how hosting interns are beneficial for all stakeholders involved.

Not A Typical Internship

Barb Bumgardner, SNS, puts her interns to work right from day one. They’ve helped her implement plate waste studies, decorate the cafeteria and write grants.

“Two years ago, I had unexpected surgery and it took a little while to get back in the groove,” explains Bumgardner, food service director at Middleton (Idaho) School District. In her absence, the current intern at the time worked with staff and took on a lot of responsibilities. “One of the first days I came back, he had made himself right at home at my desk and on my computer.”

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Bridge the Staffing Gap

Five years ago, April Mackill’s first intern came at a very interesting time. She was a brand-new director and didn’t have much rapport with her staff. The graduate student intern helped bridge that divide. (Mackill was also the same age as the intern.)

“I was having intense staffing difficulties because it was my first year,” explains Mackill, director at Plumas (Calif.) Elementary School District. “We had a lot of modernizations to do in terms of our training regimen and that intern was a huge blessing. The intern provided me a good in as to why we needed to change our training regimen.”

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The Career Path Less Traveled On

As they attend staff meetings, manage projects, advocate for quality meals and lead trainings, dietic interns fully learn the demands of the school nutrition director. Many interns, it was agreed, believed that a school-based dietitian simply wrote menus.

“As a dietitian, there is a thought that you’re wouldn’t be a ‘dietitian’ if you’re doing this work,” explains Ellersick. “It’s definitely a shift in thinking.”

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Words of Wisdom

If you’re interested in bringing interns into your school nutrition department, take the advice of other directors and dietitians who have been working with them for years.

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