Next-Gen Leaders: Morgan Burnett

Student Employment Manager, Dining and Culinary Services
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Educational background: Associate Degree in Culinary and Hospitality Management from Waukesha County Technical College
Years in foodservice: 16, the first 5 years at a variety of high-end restaurants in Milwaukee
Age: 32

Morgan-Burnett UW-MadisonMorgan BurnettFE&S: Describe your role at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

MB: I manage 157 student supervisors and 800 to 900 student team members. My role highlights the need for engagement with students, which goes hand in hand with managing a high retention rate. My ultimate role in dining is being a direct link for students to engage with full-time staff and managers, and my hope is to bridge the gap between different facets of employment within the UW foodservice industry.

FE&S: Tell us about your C&U segment experience.

MB: I started working for different universities' foodservice programs around the Milwaukee area 11 years ago and came to the UW-Madison 8 years ago. I started here as a chef and then went into catering for 2 years before securing my new role as student employment manager.

FE&S: What drew you to the foodservice industry?

MB: I initially got involved within the food industry at my high school. They had a college prep program geared toward culinary careers that pushed me toward that path in college.

My initial attraction to cooking stems from my father. Cooking, baking and spending time with him in the kitchen created a passion within me that allowed me to express my own creativity. Following my passion was then an easy career choice for me.

FE&S: What led you to the campus dining segment?

MB: At college, I had a professor who was a part of the campus dining industry. He saw that I wanted something more than the restaurant industry could give me. He understood I wanted the opportunity to show my talents, but also have the potential to grow within the industry. He started one of the foodservice programs at a nearby university and was able to push me in the direction of campus dining.

FE&S: What's the best career advice you have been given?

MB: The best advice, like most, comes from my mom. She always told me to follow my dreams. It might seem cliché, but there is truth in the simplicity of it. Being one of few females committed to the industry, I had my share of failures and pushbacks, but knowing that I was doing something I was passionate about helped to turn those failures and falls into truths and reasons to keep pushing forward.

FE&S: What's an important lesson you've learned about working in this segment?

MB: I've learned that you need to be on your toes in order to respond to the ever-changing trends of customers and of the student staff. Most jobs create a sense of comfort because the pace of change is slower, but here, each year brings about new trends and challenges because of the dynamic climate of college life. Ultimately, you learn to take any situation in stride.

FE&S: What trends and future directions in campus dining are most exciting to you?

MB: It will be interesting to see how the technological changes that are constant in our society blend with the demand for full-capacity workloads from our customers. College students are all about 24/7 availability, and our foodservice industry will be challenged to keep up with their high demands.

FE&S: Where do you see the biggest need for change or improvement?

MB: There needs to be more student engagement and appreciation. Students need to feel they are not just a number.
Culinary services not only provides meals for students but is another way for students to engage in their universities. They can build connections and engage in personal interactions with a wide range of people. They also build deep friendships that open the door to an endless pool of opportunities and memories.

FE&S: What's one of the biggest professional challenges you have overcome?

MB: When I was first interviewed and then hired, there was some backlash from people who thought I was not a good fit for the position. They expressed a desire for someone who was more than just a "catering person." However, with the support and help from various people, I was able to take a brand-new position and develop it into something bigger than they imagined. My perseverance and passion gave me the confidence to grow beyond the confines the initial doubters put me in.

FE&S: Complete this sentence as it relates to your campus dining program: "I really wish we could ..."

MB: ...extend the same passion for providing great service toward absorbing the constant changes as a positive outlet for growth instead of a negative obstacle.

FE&S: What keeps you in this industry?

MB: In most jobs, the employee pool is very steady, but working with students changes the definition of long-term employment. I can see real change and growth in a short amount of time.

I can see someone advance from the lowest student position into the highest within four years. I can see them grow, adapt to change, excel in their passions, take falls in stride and build friendships that last a lifetime.

 

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