Staff Spotlight with Sarah Egan
Meet dietitian and public health professional Sarah Egan, MPH, RD. She is the Project Coordinator for the Michigan State University-Hurley Children's Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative (PPHI), Nutrition team.
She talks about finding her dream job, Flint Kids Cook, overcoming challenges at work during COVID-19, and how transitioning to a virtual class helped reach more kids and brought families together.
Q: What does your job entail?
A: I am responsible for implementing Flint Kids Cook, a cooking and nutrition program for kids aged 8 to 18 years old. This includes recruiting and enrolling eligible children, coordinating with our chefs and food suppliers to ensure that the recipes and food are provided, preparing nutrition curriculum, and co-teaching the in-person and virtual classes with the chefs. I also collect baseline and exit data from child participants to understand the program's effects on child eating habits, cooking skills, attitudes about cooking, and health-related quality of life.
Here is evidence that Sarah is passionate about nutrition for kids. Watch her talk with ABC12 News about getting nutrition back on track as kids head back to school.
Q: What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
A: As a dietitian and public health professional, I love that my job is public health nutrition in action. In addition to learning basic cooking skills, kids share that the class teaches them the importance of eating healthy foods, builds their confidence in the kitchen, and even inspires some to want to be chefs when they grow up. I love seeing the excitement that children express when welcomed into the kitchen, their satisfaction when tasting something they made, and the pride on their faces when they share homemade food with their family. I am motivated to continue doing this work because I see the program's impact on Flint kids. I hope that the skills and knowledge they learn in this program will stay with them throughout their lives.
Q: What has been your favorite project so far?
A: In response to COVID-19, we adapted our in-person class for kids into a virtual class for families to participate in from home. Developing the virtual class was a big undertaking, as nearly every aspect of the class had to be rethought. Collaboration between my team and our amazing community partners allowed us to overcome challenges such as converting paperwork to virtual surveys, figuring out how to deliver food boxes to families, and setting up a demonstration kitchen for the chefs. I'm really proud of the virtual class, and it has helped us reach over 100 kids from more than 70 families in the last year. Before COVID-19, we never considered offering a virtual class. Now, we see it as a way to reach new families and provide an experience that caregivers and kids can share. While this project felt like a necessity to keep up with the times, it has been a real asset to our programming that we plan to continue offering in the future.
Q: What is the best career lesson you've learned so far?
A: I think the best career lesson I have learned is the importance of collaboration and optimism. COVID-19 required us to rethink how to offer our cooking program safely. Initially, it didn't seem feasible to develop a virtual class that would be accessible to families. Fortunately, our community partners had other ideas, and their problem-solving and commitment helped us create a virtual class that exceeded my expectations. This experience was a great reminder that partnership and positive thinking are key components of success.
Q: What is something fun most people at work don't know about you?
A: I played the euphonium in the marching band when I was in college at the University of Wisconsin. Some of my best college memories are from my experiences in the band.
Q: What do you like to do when you aren't working?
A: I enjoy reading, cooking, writing to my pen pals, and supporting Wisconsin sports teams. I love spending time outdoors - biking, hiking, and paddleboarding are some of my favorite activities. I have also gotten into sewing during the past year and have made myself some fleece pajamas, a dress, and a t-shirt quilt. I can also make face masks!
Q: What are three words to describe you?
A: Active, motivated, sincere.
Q: What is one thing you cannot live without?
A: The support of my family and friends.
Q: Why did you choose MSU Flint to work?
A: When I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I saw a part-time job posting for a Nutrition Instructor for a kids cooking class in Flint. I applied immediately; this was exactly the kind of work I hoped to be doing full-time when I graduated with my MPH. Two years later, I am still the Nutrition Instructor for Flint Kids Cook, but I have transitioned into the position full-time. The choice to work for the MSU Division of Public Health in Flint was very aspirational at the time, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to grow and take on more responsibility in this role over time.
Q: If you were to share words of wisdom with the team, what would you want them to know?
A: One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou that motivates my work is, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
To connect, email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 4, 2021