Story by Erik Potter
Clipboard in hand, Cassie Gibbons stands in front of infusion, the coffee and pastry shop inside the MU Student Center, trying — mostly fruitlessly — to get students to fill out a survey.
“You can get a free cup of coffee!” says Gibbons, then a senior in dietetics. “It’ll only take a minute!”
Most people ignore her. One student brushes past with a quick, “No, thank you.” Gibbons ups the ante. “But it’s about getting all-day breakfast,” she implores.
The student stops, turns around and walks back to her. “All-day breakfast?” he asks.
“Give me the survey,” he says. “I don’t want the coffee though.”
Gibbons smiles. She’s doing market research for a small-group project in her dietetics class. She’s working with two classmates — Olivia Rees and Laura Taylor Makarewicz — to create a new restaurant concept to go in the Student Center. If they can make a strong case, there’s a chance they could actually see their idea come to fruition.
A few weeks later, Gibbons, from Dunlap, Illinois, stands in front of a room full of Campus Dining Services (CDS) managers and administrators. She, Rees and Makarewicz pitch their breakfast concept to the assembled brass.
The students have put together an entire business plan — kitchen layout, menu, price points, logo — for their restaurant, which they have named “Yolk’d.”
At the same pitch session, two other teams from the same dietetics course present ideas for an Indian restaurant and a small-plates event for CDS’ Culinary Nutrition Series. Each team brings a food cart filled with sample menu items.
The pitches are part of a partnership that CDS has had with the Coordinated Program in Dietetics in the College of Human Environmental Sciences for the past 20 years.
Not every pitch is accepted, however. “Yolk’d,” which Gibbons, Rees and Makarewicz pitched during the 2017–18 academic year, hasn’t been implemented — yet. But having a plan on the shelf gives CDS a starting place should it move that direction.
Regardless, the students benefit from the experience.
“If I want to go, in the future, and make a business, I have a baseline understanding of what needs to happen,” says Gibbons, who will graduate in May with her Master’s of Science in dietetics.
But the partnership between the academic department and the operations unit goes much deeper than pitch presentations.
Similar to the bar exam for lawyers, Registered Dietitians (RDs) must pass the Registration Examination for Dietitians.
To sit for the national exam, applicants must have not only a degree in dietetics but also 1,200 hours of supervised internship experiences that cover clinical nutrition, community nutrition and management.
Many dietetics degree programs deliver only in-class instruction and require students to source their own internships. Often, there aren’t enough internships available, which leaves graduates in limbo, on the hook for a degree they can’t put into practice.
Mizzou removes that risk by offering a “coordinated” program. All the required internships are built into the program. Finding enough clinical- and community-nutrition internships requires program leaders to build partnerships across the state at hospitals, food pantries and other community nutrition programs.
Finding enough management internships, however, is easy. They have CDS.
CDS takes dozens of interns each year, giving them experience in front-line food service and in managing all aspects of a restaurant, including personnel, inventory and operations.
“A world without CDS? I don’t even want to think about it,” says LeGreta Hudson, assistant teaching professor in dietetics.
Nancy Monteer, director of Campus Dining Services, says the benefit goes both ways. The dietetics interns come in asking lots of questions about processes and practices, which can be revealing if the managers feel they don’t have a good enough answer.
“When you have to explain things to someone trying to learn, you sometimes learn that we’re doing something simply because it’s the way we’ve always done it,” Monteer says. “Sometimes that light bulb goes off. ‘Why do we do it this way?’ It helps keep our eyes fresh.”
The partnership also puts CDS managers in the role of academic mentors who can take pride in the success of their interns as they watch them grow over the course of three years. “It’s rewarding to be able to look at that student and think, ‘Maybe a tiny bit of their growth is due to me.’ ”
Mizzou’s dietetics program is unique in the extent to which it partners with the university’s dining operations. It also stands out among other coordinated programs for the success of its graduates. Ninety-eight percent of MU graduates pass the RD exam on their first try. The national average is 72 percent.
Program directors aren’t content to rest on their laurels, however. This May represents a milestone for the program: the first time students will graduate with a master’s degree.
Dietetics director Nikki Raedeke made the change, which required adding an additional year to the program, to stay ahead of national standards.
As part of her planning, she met with CDS Director Nancy Monteer and former CDS Director Julaine Kiehn to develop a new internship plan that stretches over three years. To help accommodate the change, CDS agreed to increase their number of dietetics interns to 60.
It’s an example of the quality of collaboration the two units have, Raedeke says. “It’s just an ongoing partnership, and they’re awesome.”
Among this year’s first master’s cohort are Gibbons, Rees and Makarewicz.
Gibbons says the “Yolk’d” business plan she presented was among the highlights of her student experience. The lessons she gained from her CDS internships — she worked every front-line position at Plaza 900 and did a management rotation at Sabai — gave her knowledge and confidence.
“I’d never been in a management position, so I was able to practice that and find my own style,” she says.
After graduation and passing the RD exam, she plans to move to Philadelphia and, to start, join a team of RDs at a hospital.
Makarewicz, from Trimble, Missouri, says her dining internships taught her the importance of communication, whether that’s in doing market research for a business plan or communicating with team members to avoid duplicating efforts.
“The confidence and knowledge you gain — I don’t think you can gain those just being in the classroom,” she says. “You have to do the experiences we had.”
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