OXFORD, Miss. – The Institute of Child Nutrition at the University of Mississippi has agreed to partner with the American Heart Association and is moving forward on other initiatives to provide training for child nutrition professionals across the country under new Executive Director Aleshia Hall-Campbell's leadership.
ICN, which is part of the School of Applied Sciences, provides resources to improve child nutrition programs, including guidance on making school meals healthier and safer, while keeping costs feasible for school districts. Its staff also offers free and low-cost training options for child nutrition professionals and provides resources to help them meet new professional standards requirements.
Hall-Campbell was selected recently as the institute's new executive director. ICN is the only federally funded national center dedicated to applied research, education, training and technical assistance for child nutrition programs.
"We're trying to expand partnerships with allied organizations to continue providing high-quality training and resources for nutrition professionals," Hall-Campbell said. "We want to continue to make resources available in various modalities and formats like online courses, videos, webinars, face-to-face training, facts sheets and infographics."
The ICN's work is a good example of the importance of partnerships, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.
"The Institute of Child Nutrition at the University of Mississippi is a tremendous example of one of our many longstanding partnerships with federal agencies that benefit our nation," Vitter said. "The institute reaches millions of people through education, outreach and training, as well as partnerships.
"I look forward to the institute's continued impact on improving the quality and operation of child nutrition programs nationwide."
Hall-Campbell had been acting director for the past two years before getting the job permanently. Before that, she was the institute's associate director of cooperative agreements.
She holds a doctorate in higher education leadership from UM, a Master of Public Health from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, and a bachelor's degree from Jackson State University. She's also ICN's first African-American executive director.
"It's overwhelming," Hall-Campbell said. "It's humbling. I don't want that to be the focus, but I do want to acknowledge it and step in to be a role model and also open the door of opportunity for everyone."
Under a new memorandum of understanding, ICN will work with the American Heart Association, a major health organization dedicated to fighting cardiovascular disease and strokes. The goal is to join forces in support of efforts to provide training and resources for school nutrition and childcare professionals on preparing healthy meals for students.
"We want to work collaboratively to develop heart-healthy resources, which is major factor in combating childhood obesity these days," Hall-Campbell said.
Both organizations are already partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "What's Shaking?" and "Team Up for School Nutrition Success" programs to assist child nutrition operators in reducing sodium in foods, and to create peer-to-peer mentoring.
The late Jeanette Phillips, former professor and chair of the UM Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management, worked to bring the institute to the university. Congress established the ICN in 1989 and it's funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service grant.
It has four divisions: Education and Training, Information Services, and Administration are all at Ole Miss. The ICN's Applied Research Division is housed at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Since its creation, the ICN has become a go-to source for information, resources, research and on-site training at schools across the country, all at little to no cost. It offers online training resources, free online courses for child nutrition personnel and an expert help desk in support of child nutrition program management.
The institute houses the Child Nutrition Archives, which preserves the history and artifacts of the federally funded child nutrition program, at Ole Miss.
Research indicates that one in three American children is overweight or obese, Hall-Campbell said. Transforming menus in schools and encouraging physical activity doesn't just help make kids healthier; research also shows healthy food and better academic performance go hand in hand.
The institute's quality interactive online courses, such as Focus on the Customer for school nutrition managers, provide guidance in meeting federal regulations and practical advice and tools for best serving students, school staff and others. The courses also offer flexibility for working professionals to fit them into their schedules.
The Food Buying Guide Calculator, which was developed in partnership with USDA's Team Nutrition and found on ICN's website, helps simplify ordering for school nutrition staff.
Moving forward, ICN will continue to focus on creating new partnerships to continue transforming school nutrition, Hall-Campbell said.
"It's an honor and a privilege to be able to step into this capacity," Hall-Campbell said. "Serving in the acting capacity got my feet wet and let me really see it.
"I had been here five years before that, but now it's full ownership and accountability in this organization. I'm focused on how we can move forward and be a major resource in this field."