Northwestern’s new dining director Ken Field looks to bring fresh perspective

Jee Young Lee, Reporter

Northwestern’s new dining director Ken Field says he plans to bring innovation and effective communication to Northwestern Dining, using other universities in the Midwest that have what he calls exemplary dining services as models.

In a newly created position, Field joined NU about three weeks ago and is currently evaluating the dining services and looking for ways to improve them. He said one of his main goals is to bring students high quality food at an affordable price.

“Students just need the food … at a price that fits in the budget so they can do other things to support student life,” he said. “We don’t want to make the food too expensive, and we don’t want to make the process (of getting food) too hard.”

The Division of Student Affairs began searching for a dining director this academic year to create a liaison between Sodexo, NU’s main food provider, and the University. Field will oversee issues related to contracts, catering, retail and dining services in residential halls. He also helps coordinate the master dining plan.

“I want to have us be nationally ranked,” Field said. “I want to have people recognize Northwestern Dining for the innovation we have on campus.”

Prior to the creation of the dining director position, Sodexo’s district manager at NU met with Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, associate vice president for student affairs, Paul Riel, executive director of residential services, and Kelly Schaefer, executive director of Norris University Center, to shape NU’s dining services. However, the size of the contracts and complexity of the services created the need for a food services professional.

Field plans to spend the rest of the academic year and the summer evaluating and understanding NU’s food services, including student satisfaction. He said he has made an effort to eat in residential dining halls to gather feedback from students.

“I’m trying to figure out how I can interact, impact and reach out to students,” Field said. “If people see me out, I would be happy to talk to them and share ideas.”

Before coming to NU, Field worked at Purdue University for 19 years, serving as the coordinator of retail sales in residential halls, as the general manager of residential halls and finally as the director of residential dining. He said his wealth of experience with both catering and residential services gives him with a broad perspective.

“Students consistently praise the food program at Purdue, and we are lucky to bring Ken to NU to help us increase dining services, quality and programs for our students,” Payne-Kirchmeier wrote in an email to the student affairs division when she announced Field’s hire.

Regarding the master housing plan, Field said his current focus is establishing clear communication between Northwestern Dining and students so students are aware of important changes, including information about which dining halls will be open during residential hall renovations.

Administrators expect to fully implement the master housing plan in 2025, which includes constructing five new residential halls, full renovations of 11 residence halls and the demolition of three, according to the University website.

“Students who are coming back in September will start to see some improvements, some changes we’re going to be focused on,” Field said.

Field added he and other administrators are working together to support Real Food at NU.

Miranda Cawley, co-director of Real Food at NU and a Medill junior, said the group is pushing to shift 20 percent of NU’s food purchases to “humane, ecologically sound and locally based” food by 2020.

Field said Real Food at NU has used data collected from the real food calculator on the Real Food Challenge website, which determines the percentage of food NU buys locally. Real Food at NU and NU Dining will set goals for the next three to five years, working with Sodexo to find products that fit within the guidelines established by the Real Food Challenge.

Field said NU will be the first school in the Big Ten to commit to the Real Food Challenge if University President Morton Schapiro signs the campus commitment. The student group is meeting with Schapiro on June 3.

Cawley said Field supports the student group’s initiative, while still thinking strategically to make sure the plans are feasible.

“He is really interested in student-led initiatives and has been supportive of our efforts and student organizers up until this point,” Cawley said.

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