News Date: 
Sunday, October 16, 2011

Source: The Red and Black

By Rachel G. Bowers on October 16, 2011

It was love at first cheese.

“Several years ago I received a letter from a dad,” said J. Michael Floyd, director of food services. “He said ‘I wanted to tell you how much my daughter is enjoying UGA.’”

That student went to the dining hall after orientation, but at the time did not want to come to the University. While at lunch, the student said, “Look Dad, they have macaroni and cheese just like Mom’s.”

“The dad proceeded to say ‘My wife has been dead for several years,’” Floyd said. “‘It was this touch that made the connection for my daughter that this could be her second home.’ To me, that was the highest compliment we could receive.”

Floyd said his mission is to make students feel at home in the dining commons.

“That’s a great embodiment of what we are trying to do here,” said Austin Childers, an assistant manager at Oglethorpe Dining Commons. “It’s more than nourishment. It’s a part of our daily lives and it’s great to hear stories like that.”

Childers has been working for food services since he was an undergraduate student more than four years ago.

Food services is one of the largest employers of students on campus with more than 900 student employees.

“If you are a student of the University, food services is a great place to work,” Floyd said. “You have a chance to learn skills — not only food-related skills, but managerial skills also.”

As an undergraduate, Childers worked for one semester before applying for the student supervisor, or “black shirt in training” program.

“So when you graduate you’re going out into the workforce with a degree and managerial experience,” Floyd said. “We constantly hear back from these students when they graduate that when they’re interviewing, a large part is talking about their managerial experience in food services. Any type of job you are applying for has some sort of management responsibilities.”

After graduating, Childers returned to food services as an assistant manager.

But management isn’t the only program students aspire for: two years ago, food services also started a student culinary team.

“These are students who are saying ‘I’d like to learn how to cook,’ so they work in the dining commons under the chefs,” Floyd said. “And if they stay with us some time, when they graduate we actually give them a chef’s jacket as a memento.”

Dana Drewek, a senior from Grayson majoring in English and psychology, worked in O-House for three years, some of which were in the bake shop.

“Back in the back we were really crazy,” Drewek said. “Especially us in the bake shop because we would always dance crazy and just have a good time. It’s the whole ‘whistle while you work’ thing back there.”

Though Drewek said the job came with its share of drama, she enjoyed the social aspect of it.

“That’s the best part about working at O-House — meeting people,” she said. “You find yourself hanging out with them so it’s like you never leave work, but it’s all really fun.”

She also misses the free meal with every shift worked.

“O’casa was probably my favorite because I loved to get their new garlic quesadilla,” she said. “I’m gonna miss eating there, it’s Mexican any time you want it.”

But she doesn’t miss the smell.

“I didn’t enjoy coming home every day smelling like butter or dish water,” she said. “I don’t miss that.”

For a few students who prefer to avoid the food aspect, there’s also a few student artist positions.

“These art clericals on our team bring their expertise to the table from areas like graphic design,” Childers said. “We’ll have paintings in the windows, prints that are put up and a lot of nice decoration during special events.”

And like the hungry meal plan patrons, Drewek enjoyed the special events.

“It’s always fun to work there on specials,” she said. “They put pictures up and change the lights. It’s a different atmosphere ... they can take a pretty plain environment and turn it into something pretty cool.”

Childers said that working closely with student employees helps bring their interests to the table.

“We all bounce ideas off each other,” he said. “Having student supervisors working closely is a good soundboard for getting ideas of what the student body is into.”

With the collaboration of artists, chefs, black shirts and other student employees, the University’s food services are ranked in the top 1 percent in the nation.

“One of the reasons we’re so successful is because we’re so student-driven,” Floyd said.