A love of food and strong people skills compelled Kristin Duffy to pivot from accounting to a culinary arts degree. This month, the food services manager for ISU Dining is using those skills to help her staff offer delicious meals and a welcoming dining room to new student orientation guests.

Like other residential dining employees, Duffy is spending this summer at Seasons Marketplace on the east side of campus, where students and families can take their meals during their day-and-a-half discovery of campus. She helps run the dining center -- which includes student employees and merit employees from all four dining centers -- with an array of responsibilities nearly as plentiful as the food choices. She has worked in nearly every campus residential dining center, spending the past academic year at Union Drive Marketplace, the largest dining facility with the only special diets kitchen.

"This summer, my day-to-day responsibilities are to get venues open, ensure food is prepared and displayed correctly, and ensure all of our staff are working in safe spaces," she said. "I have been in food service since I was 16 and in management for more than 10 years."

Each shift has 10 to 20 cooks -- with two weeks to 23 years of kitchen experience -- and numerous managers to help the preparation and service go smoothly. In addition to orientation guests, dining services feeds several groups that use campus facilities each summer, including youth hockey players at a multiday tournament in June.

A go-to resource for so many

Dining services manager Kristin Duffy stands inside Seasons Marketplace where she is spending the month helping serve students and family members attending new student orientation.
Dining services manager Kristin Duffy is spending June at Seasons Marketplace to help welcome families during new student orientation.

Duffy's fellow managers appreciate the little things she consistently does to help them, especially during the busy orientation season.

"She is usually the first contact for any staff questions," said Michelle Rupert, who manages the Seasons dining center.

Duffy's ability to see things, big and small, that need to be done and just do them without being asked endears her to coworkers.

"That is what stands out about Kristin," Rupert said. "She just sees things and does them, when others may not feel it is part of their responsibilities. She knows everyone is busy, so she just goes ahead and gets it done."

When Duffy talks about employees she often says "my cooks" or "my chefs," a subtle signal that all staff are valued team members. She said she has thought about becoming a chef but satisfies that desire by working closely with them.

"As a manager, you're the person they are coming to with questions, but I get the chance to interact with people more than if I was a chef," she said. "I like to be the one my cooks know they can go to with all sorts of things, from management questions to recipe questions."

Duffy said she never wants to see an employee "in the weeds" -- restaurant speak for struggling -- when others can pitch in and make service go smoothly. It is a family environment Duffy and dining services leadership believe serves everyone well.

Busy days

During orientation, Duffy is splitting time between the dining center and ISU Dining's exhibit at the resource fair in the Student Innovation Center several times times a week. There, she answers an array of questions from students and parents, from how dining plans work to where all the dining venues are located.

"I enjoy the fair because it is fun to connect with all of the people who have questions and are learning to navigate a large campus," Duffy said.

During the academic year, Duffy frequently assists students with special dietary needs, training them to self-manage in the dining centers. That includes label reading, scanning QR codes to determine allergens in food items and talking with cooks to make the best choices.

The resource fair also is an opportunity to recruit student employees for dining services. Since the pandemic, finding enough workers for the dining centers has been challenging, but Duffy refuses to let that be a reason for any dip in standards.

"I try to hold everyone to the same standard, but when I see things that need to be done, I know I can jump in and help," she said.