Tag Archives: Staff Spotlight

Getting to Know Brent Mason

After spending the past 21 years with Bob Evans, Brent Mason has been welcomed into the Miami University family with open arms as dining services’ new director of operations. As such, Mason oversees all the food and beverage on campus including our a la carte, convenience store and buffet locations.

We thought we’d take a moment with Mason and get to know a little more about one of the newest faces in our dining services.


Q: How did you get into food service?

A: The main reason was that my wife got pregnant. I was doing construction and did not have insurance. I had a college buddy that was a general manager at Bob Evans. He got me an interview at Bob Evans, so my venture into food service was more family-oriented. I wanted to get insurance for the family and for our child. I ended up staying there 21 years.

Q: Favorite thing in Miami Dining so far?

A: I think the opportunity with Miami. Miami does their own food instead of using an outside company like Aramark. There is so much opportunity for us to continue to improve the quality of the food, the safety of the food and even just in menu selection. We have so much leeway to create different menus.

I think one of our big drives right now, that is pretty cool, is being nut-friendly by next August and pushing to be more gluten-friendly, soy-friendly and really focusing on allergens. We want to make it a healthier place and a more inviting place for people who have special diets. 

Q: Could you briefly describe yourself personally?

A: I would say I’m pretty private about my personal life. I was brought up to be very respectful of others and I think that has carried with me. It’s something I am now trying to pass that onto my children. I also like being around my family.

Q: Do you have a personal philosophy you live by?

A: If you work hard and put the effort into it, you get out what you put in. If you do things halfway, you will never be successful, but by putting the effort in and working your tail off, you get what you earn. I believe in being a hard worker and continuing to learn every day.

Q: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work?

A: I ride a motorcycle. In nice weather, it’s very freeing and just relaxing to get out and ride. I love doing that. I love going to bike weeks or going on bike trips. It’s very enjoyable to me.

Q: Favorite dish to prepare?

A: I would probably say one of my favorites is chili. You can do a lot of things with it. I don’t really have a set recipe that I follow, but that’s probably my favorite to prepare.

Q: To eat?

A: Lasagna is one of my favorites.

Q: Least favorite food?

A: Just about every vegetable. I’m not a very big vegetable person. I’m definitely not a fan of brussel sprouts. Those would have to be my least favorite.

Q: Favorite TV Show?

A: I watch a lot of TV, but I watch a variety of shows, so I wouldn’t say I have a favorite one right now. The last one I really enjoyed was Sons of Anarchy. Sons of Anarchy was my favorite, but that has been off for a couple years now. 

Q: Cat or Dog?

A: I have a dog.

Q: Cake or Pie?

A: Pie.


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Getting to Know Ashley Blust

Ashley Blust is not only a registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian (RDN, LD), but she is also one of the newest faces in Miami University’s dining services. Blust, an alumna of the University of Cincinnati, worked in food service throughout her undergraduate studies and comes from a background working at hospitals in the Cincinnati area.

Bringing a wide range of nutrition knowledge and food service experience, we thought we’d take a moment to sit down with Blust and find out more about our new general food service manager.


Q: What does it mean to be a registered dietitian?

A: Being a registered dietitian essentially means you went the extra mile. Anyone can call themselves nutritionists, but to be a registered dietitian, you are required to take classes, do an internship and then pass the exam. The exam was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

To me, being a dietitian means you’re committed to the continuous learning about nutrition. Things are constantly changing and you have to keep up.

Q: Why is it important that Miami has a registered dietitian?

A: I think it’s important because when people think of college dining, they may think it’s a luxury of sorts, but really, dining is about nutrition. Nutrition is something we provide for our students, and we do everything we can in order for them to live a nutritious and well-balanced lifestyle. I think having a registered dietitian, who is an expert in everything they would need nutrition-wise, helps in that mission

Q: What is your favorite thing about Miami Dining so far?

A: I think my favorite thing so far is how above and beyond we go for special events and the variety at the various dining locations across campus. I mean, they’re so cool. From the concepts at Maplestreet with all those options, to the simplicity of Western, the Allergen Station and the wide range of options we have, I think it is the coolest thing in the world. I’m such a nutrition nerd, but I think it’s really incredible. If I were a freshman and I were looking at the school I wanted to spend four years at, and I saw this, especially being interested in nutrition and everything, hands down, I’d go here. I should have gone here, honestly.

Q: Could you briefly describe yourself personally?

A: I would describe myself as someone who is easy-going and easy to talk to. I understand that we may, as dietitians, promote A, B and C as the best way to do something, but there’s always a Z way to do something. Nutrition requires a personal approach and, in that sense, I like to think I’m easy to talk to and realistic.

Q: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

A: I didn’t plan on being a dietitian. I wanted to be a physical therapist when I was a freshman and then a slew of other things. I decided I didn’t want to pursue a career in physical therapy, so I thought about an occupational therapist, which isn’t that different. I then switched to education, special education and then medical imaging before deciding I wanted to be a dietitian. I did not even think about being a dietitian until I was a junior, but I’m so glad I did. It’s a world of possibilities that I never imagined.

Q: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work?

A: Anything outside. I have two dogs. I have a Boston terrier named Thor, and then I have a German shepherd named Zeus. I take them for hikes and runs and things like that. I really like to kayak. I have my own kayak that I take on vacation to Florida and to different places around here. I like to fish out of the kayak as well. I’m not very good, but I enjoy it.

Q: Favorite dish to prepare?

A: I’ve been trying to venture out and try to make more ethnic foods. Recently, I made a really good butter masala. I’ve also been taking recipes back to the basics and trying to make them from scratch. I’m really good at making potato skins. It’s a pretty fool-proof one, but I’m really good at that.

Q: To eat?

A: My favorite dish would probably be this dish I created called body-builder casserole. It’s roasted sweet potatoes on the bottom and then you put kale, feta cheese and really lean ground beef. You top it with more feta cheese and bake it all into a casserole. It sounds super gross and it looks gross, but it’s really good.

Q: Least favorite food?

A: Olives. Nope, no olives.

Q: Favorite TV Show?

A: Right now my favorite tv show is probably Girls on HBO. I don’t watch a lot of TV or cable. I watch a lot of the streaming services like Netflix, HBO and Hulu.

Q: Cat or Dog?

A: Dogs. All day long.

Q: Cake or Pie?

A: Cake.


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Staff Spotlight: Christopher Pioske

As a music education major, a career in food service wasn’t on Christopher Pioske’s radar as a student at Miami University. After graduation though, Pioske joined Miami’s dining services as his wife finished up her degree and found more than a temporary job. Now a general manager at Armstrong Student Center, Pioske says he has found a career at Miami in dining services.

“To be honest, I never worked in food service when I was in school here. I did a little cooking at home, but when I started here, it was just a job,” said Pioske. “I came in here thinking it was just something temporary, but then I found I really enjoyed cooking and really enjoyed being involved with the university. It just kind of evolved into a career.”

Pioske began working in dining service at Bell Tower Place as a food service worker. He worked his way up to a manager position there before heading to the Middletown campus to run its food service operation for a short time. He was offered – and accepted – an interim general dining manager position at Armstrong and took the position officially in January 2016.

“When I was in school, a lot of my best experiences revolved around eating and dining halls,” said Pioske. “I had great experiences in the dining halls, and I want to do what I can to continue to provide those experiences for students today.”

As general dining manager, Pioske oversees the full-time and student-staff across Armstrong’s eight dining venues. He ensures lines are moving as smoothly as possible, checks in with staff and guests and monitors the business of one of the busiest halls on campus. Overwhelming for some, the bustling nature of Armstrong is one of the things Pioske finds most exciting.

“It’s definitely never boring. Everyday is a completely new challenge. You might be short help one day, or maybe you’re going to have extra groups, which are going to increase your guest numbers, so it’s challenging that way,” said Pioske. “I really enjoy the variety that comes day-to-day and meeting those challenges, along with my team, to give students the best experience we can.”

While Pioske finds the challenges throughout the day to be the most exciting part of his job, his favorite part of the job is the sense of community that comes with working in dining. Whether working on the Middletown campus with student-employees or on main campus with a mix of full-time and student-workers, Pioske has always felt a togetherness and genuine interest in the well-being of others.

“I hate to call it a sense of family, but it kind of is like family,” said Pioske. “Everybody feels responsible for each other and they care for the well-being of one another. I think it’s neat that no matter where you go, no matter how much you might argue with somebody, you know that at the end of the day they care about what happens to you. I think that’s a very special thing that we have as a department.”

For Pioske, an important part of providing the best experience for students is building those relationships, not only with his team, but with the guests who pass through Armstrong.

“It ensures we are able to provide the best service possible. To have that relationship with your employees means that they’re going to go above and beyond to make your guests happy and will do that extra little bit to get through the rush,” said Pioske. “And for our guests, hearing feedback can give us some fulfillment in knowing that we are meeting their needs or can provide an opportunity for us to improve their experience.”

When he isn’t working, Pioske spends most of his time playing with his two young children. With one almost two years old and the other four, he enjoys taking them places to experience new things. He also enjoys games, crosswords and reading in his free time. Anything that makes his brain work.

As a college student, Pioske never expected to find a career in food service. After finding a career in dining at Miami, he thinks it’s interesting to look back at how a music education major became a general dining manager at Armstrong Student Center.

“It just goes to show that no matter what direction you think you’re going to take, sometimes you find something else as you’re going along,” said Pioske. “You never know who is on the other side of that counter or where they come from.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

Prepare – I like to bake. I bake all sorts of things, but I probably like baking cookies the most.

Eat – I really like seafood. Seafood and pasta. I don’t think you can go wrong with some shrimp or something in pasta.

What’s your least favorite food?

Raw carrots.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?

Probably how to clean a variety of stains out of things. It’s two small children. They take food, they take drink, they take everything, and it’s always everywhere.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Let’s just stick with my pasta. How about we just start out with a nice caprese salad. Maybe some cantaloupe with prosciutto. Something light for an appetizer. Then we’ll have some shrimp scampi. For dessert … what would I have for dessert? Cheesecake.

When are you happiest?

I’m happiest when I’m spending time with my family.

What is the title and genre of the book about your life?

I’m going to go with fantasy adventure for the genre. It’s about the journey, the experiences and overcoming challenges. I don’t have a good name for one though.

What do you want to be famous for?

I think I would want to be famous for something like discovering the cure for something or finding something that benefits mankind.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring?

I would probably take my crosswords, for one. Oh, is there power? Is there internet on the island? That would probably be a thing then. I would take my internet. I don’t know … I try to avoid ending up on islands. And I’m just going to be practical and say sunscreen. Sounds like a good way to hangout.

Cat or dog? I own cats, but I prefer dogs.

Cake or pie? Pie. That’s an easy one.


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Staff Spotlight: Scott Haas

Every work day starts the same way for Scott Haas. He arrives at 6:45 AM and before anything else, he makes his rounds to his staff at Martin Dining Hall and Scoreboard Market.

“The first thing I do in the morning, is meet and greet all of the employees. I go around and say good morning to everybody, even before I take my coat off,” said Haas with a smile. “I don’t drink coffee, but I make a point to greet everybody before doing anything else.”

While Haas’ morning routine may seem like a small part of his day, it goes a long way. Haas wants his staff to feel comfortable coming to him for assistance and that starts by building a solid working relationship with each employee.

“If something goes wrong or someone needs help getting things ready, I want them to feel comfortable asking for help,” said Haas. “I tell them that all the time. If you need help, let me know, and I’ll help.”

Haas grew up in the small town of Bath, Indiana. Born and raised on a farm, Haas always thought he would be a farmer.

“I always wanted a farm, but they don’t make extra farm ground. What’s there is there,” said Haas with a chuckle. “It was too expensive to buy and too expensive to rent, so I started looking into food service.”

As a teenager, Haas took a job at a fast food place where he would use his free time there to mix different dishes, prompting his initial interest in food service. He attended culinary school, becoming a certified chef, and then took an assistant manager job at a family-owned cafeteria in Richmond, Indiana where he worked for 10 years, prior to his time at Miami.

Haas started at Miami in 1990 as an assistant manager at Erickson Dining Hall where he worked for two years. Over the last 26 years, Haas has worked in concessions, vending and served as the manager of the warehouse and dock operations, among other titles. It wasn’t until last summer that Haas took his current role at Martin.

“I was in dining food service for two years, and then I wasn’t back in the dining hall until I came back this year,” said Haas. “I was a general manager in the food court at Shriver Center when it opened and started accepting meal plans. I was involved in opening the first convenience store on campus and helped open and build concessions, more or less, from the ground up. I’ve done a lot of things during my time here.”

Now, Haas oversees Martin Dining Hall and Scoreboard Market where he handles food ordering, makes schedules, ensures staff are where they need to be and keeps the operation running smoothly. Much in the same way he values communication with his staff, Haas checks in with guests multiple times throughout the day to ensure everything is going well, further fostering open communication.

“Every morning, if I see them, I’ll greet them and ask how they’re doing. Whether I’m working at the cash register or not, I’ll go out in the dining room several times throughout the meal just to see how things are going,” said Haas. “It’s important to touch base. If students have an issue, I hope they would tell me or one of my assistants. I hope they feel they can come to us with feedback.”

Haas is easy-going but works hard to provide the very best service for his guests. He makes an effort to build working relationships with his staff and with students to ensure that Martin Dining Hall and Scoreboard Market operate smoothly. Haas loves getting to know people through these means, but he is still happiest when guests are happy with their meals.

“I’m happiest when I know the food is out and the food tastes great, looks great and, most importantly, when students like it. That’s probably when I’m the happiest at work. When the students are eating the food and when they are enjoying it.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

Prepare – I haven’t done it for a while, but I like making lasagna at home.

Eat – A good steak.

What’s something that’s on your bucket list?

I want to visit every state eventually. I’ve been to quite a few and some of them you go to over and over, but eventually, I want to be able to visit every state, whether we drive or fly, and visit some different countries.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?

You have to be able to adapt to changes. In the last five years, our department has changed. My family has changed. I have had two kids get married, and in the last six months, they’ve each had a child. One grandchild will be six months next week and one was a week old yesterday, so I think you’ve got to adapt to change, whether it’s at work or whether it’s with family life. There are always things that are going to change and if you can’t adapt and make changes, you’re not going to make it.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I would say a steak of some kind. A baked sweet potato. Creamed spinach with bacon. Tossed salad. A roll and then some kind of fruit pie.

When are you happiest?

I’m the happiest when I’m just relaxing. Overall, I’m happiest with how well my kids have done. I was the first child in my family to go to college and now all my kids have gone to college. They’re all doing very well.

What kitchen appliance are you and why?

I’d say a gas grill because I’ve done so much on a gas grill whether it be baking, or frying, or grilling, or roasting. I’ve fixed just about anything. A pineapple upside down cake on the grill, I’ve baked cookies, I’ve made pancakes, I’ve just done everything you can do.

What’s one thing people may not know about you?

I actually played a pickup basketball game with Larry Bird. I went to school in the town he was born and raised in, French Lick, Indiana. It was the spring before he got famous in the NCAA tournament and me and some of my friends from college went to one of the town parks to play some basketball. There were three people at one basket, and then five of us at our end, and they came over and said, “Hey, do you guys want to play a game?” We said, “Sure.” We asked how they wanted to divide it up, and they said, “Why don’t you five play us three.” We knew this guy was big. We started playing and, of course, it was more or less like one against five. He was amazing. Then, the following March, we’re sitting in our rooms watching the NCAA tournament and we thought he looked familiar. Apparently he was on spring break at the time we were playing. It was weird knowing you played against somebody like that.

Cat or dog? Definitely dog, if I had one.

Cake or pie? Pie.


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Staff Spotlight: Karen Bolser

Karen Bolser and her husband were living in Sunman, Indiana when a farm became available for sale just 50 minutes north in the town of Liberty. They visited the farm, bought it, moved in and have been happily living there since 1995.

“Both my husband and I grew up on a farm, so it wasn’t like it was a new thing to either one of us,” said Bolser. “Doing it ourselves was new. It was a lot of trial and error, but we managed.”

The farm has seen its fair share of changes over the past 21 years or so. Bolser is now a mother of three kids, and the farm is home to a wide range of animals including 25 heads of cattle, cows, four dogs, several cats, chickens, a horse and a goose. Between the animals and just over 80 acres of land devoted to corn and hay, Bolser and her family enjoy the busy farm lifestyle.

“We like spending time with the animals. We have all of our cows named. We call them and they come to eat,” said Bolser. “I like spending time with the kids and my husband and doing things as a family that way. Our farm is really a family affair. It’s just what we’ve done. We’ve taught the kids that it takes everybody to make it work, just like it does here.”

Bolser serves as the general manager of Harris Dining Center for Miami University dining services where she is responsible for various duties including monitoring food costs, staffing and other tasks to ensure the operation runs smoothly. Much like how teamwork is so important on the farm, Bolser emphasizes teamwork with the Harris dining staff.

“It takes everyone in this building to make this work. There isn’t one person who’s any more important than anyone else, and I make sure I convey that to them,” said Bolser. “I really believe you can’t run any operation without recognizing that every person is important.”

While Bolser has always sought opportunities to help others, she hasn’t always worked in food. Bolser grew up in southeast Indiana and attended Indiana State University, earning a degree in nutrition while minoring in chemistry. After college, Bolser worked in healthcare outside of Cincinnati before taking a managerial role with Miami’s dining services in 1998. Since then, Bolser has worked across campus at Harris, Alexander, Western, Armstrong and Maplestreet, before returning to Harris in her current position.

Even before getting a job at Miami, Bolser enjoyed working with food. As a child, she would watch her mom bake and cook at home, which helped cultivate an interest in food preparation. Bolser also was involved in 4-H growing up where she made different foods and performed related demonstrations.

“When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I got involved in nutrition. If I had to do it over, I would probably do things differently, but I know I would still be in food service,” said Bolser. “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and being around people. I just enjoy it.”

Now, Bolser works with a full-time manager, a part-time manager, her full-time staff and her student employees to provide top-notch food service to guests at Harris Dining Center. She enjoys building relationships with them and doing her part to set them up for success. The real reward for Bolser is when all the hard work pays off.

“The most exciting part of the job is when the students we’re serving are happy and pleased with what we’ve done, and when the staff is pleased with the outcome of their work,” said Bolser. “I think it’s all very exciting. When the staff feels accomplished, that makes me feel accomplished.”

Teamwork is essential to Bolser. Whether it’s getting through chores on the farm, or preparing for meal service at Harris, Bolser preaches the value of working together and leaning on one another to be successful.

“I enjoy sharing positive feedback with all the staff because they’re the ones who do it,” said Bolser. “I would rather be the person who is behind everyone else because I’m not the one who makes this work. My staff is, and it makes me proud when they do well and get recognized.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

Prepare – The portobello asparagus penne pasta with the herbed cream cheese in it. That’s one of my favorites and the kids love it. I also enjoy baking. I like to bake from scratch, particularly cakes. I’m not a great pie baker, but that’s because of the crust. Me and the crust, we just don’t get along. We never have.

Eat – I’d have to go with the portobello asparagus penne pasta because the whole family really likes it. When you go through all that work, you want your kids to eat it, so that makes me happy.

What’s something that’s on your bucket list?

I want to go to Alaska and go on a cruise there. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska. I don’t know why, but I think that would be interesting to do.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?

The most important thing I’ve learned in the last five years is not to take things for granted and make sure you spend time with people who matter to you. I’d also say to always try to do the right thing and stand up for what you believe in.

What would you want to be famous for?

I don’t want to be famous. I want the people around me to succeed and for me to help them get there. I would want my kids to succeed and for me to play a part in helping them get where they want to be and do what they want to do with their lives. I’d love to be a part of all that.

When are you happiest?

I’m happy at work and enjoy being at work. I’m happy at home when everyone’s together. I’m happy when I’m alone at home and when I’m just doing stuff at home.

What kitchen appliance are you and why?

I guess I would have to say a Kitchen Aid mixer because it’s sturdy, it’s strong and it gets the job done.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring?

Well, I’d have to bring a good book to read, otherwise I might get a little bored. I guess I’d have to bring a fishing pole and some way to start a fire, so maybe matches or some flint.

Cat or dog? I’m going to have to say cats. I think that’s because they’re more independent and don’t need as much attention as a dog needs.

Cake or pie? Cake.


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Staff Spotlight: Whitney Claypool

Miami University dining services has been so much more than an employer for first-year assistant manager, and Miami alumna, Whitney Claypool.

“When I first came to Miami as a student, I was really intimidated because I was coming from a small town,” said Claypool. “I kind of felt like a fish out of water, but that heightened my experience, because it pushed me to try to find people who might be more similar than different to me, and I found them in dining.”

Claypool first arrived on the Oxford campus as a junior in high school to participate in the Junior Scholars Program. She knew at that point Miami was her school of choice. Claypool began her academic career as a RedHawk in fall 2012 as a first-year student from the small town of Lucasville, Ohio.

“Lucasville is a tiny town, kind of on that little awkward tail at the bottom of Ohio. Most people don’t really know where it is,” said Claypool. “There are two stop lights in it and if they’re both green, you can get through the town in under a minute. The culture shock coming up here was insane.”

While Claypool, a first-generation college student, adjusted to Miami University, she relied heavily on her work ethic and got involved on campus.

“I was grown to be a hard worker,” said Claypool. “That’s my background. My mom always said that if you help others, they’ll help you. I am constantly working for my best.”

Claypool started working as a tutor during her freshman year. By the spring, she had caught on in dining services, working at 1809 in Shriver before working at the newly opened Maplestreet Station the following year where she earned the title of student manager. She would work in dining through the remainder of her undergraduate studies.

“I just loved the people there,” said Claypool. “That’s where I found the people most like me. Other students who were experiencing, firsthand, the difficult balance of trying to pay for their own school and the pressures that come with that on top of your regular school work. I just loved the experience.”

As Claypool bonded with her coworkers and managers, she learned what she could about the food operation, particularly as it related to students like her.

“There were a lot of hard-working managers who I know wanted to give us the best experience they could,” said Claypool. “I took notes from them and then tried to come up with my own unique ways to work with students, while recognizing that they are students first, before anything.”

Claypool found that perspective invaluable when she began working full-time at Garden Commons in August. As an assistant manager, Claypool has various responsibilities like ensuring guests have everything they need and pitching in elsewhere when needed. Claypool is also tasked with managing the student managers.

Early in the fall, she reached out to her student managers, looking for ideas and ways to help them, particularly as they dealt with the stresses of a new school year. One such idea has since been implemented by Claypool at Garden Commons in the form of a House Cup, inspired by the merit system used at Hogwarts in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

“I wanted to bond with them on that level and help them develop professionally. I’m a big nerd, so I thought Harry Potter was obviously the best option,” said Claypool with a smile. “I’m so close in age to a lot of them, and we all understand what’s needed.”

Claypool’s House Cup is a perk-point system, rewarding different teams with points for completing job tasks like taking attendance, signing up students, hosting orientation sessions and more. Rewards, like pieing the managers in the face, laser tagging, gift cards and first pick on fall shifts are set aside for the winners.

“It encourages them to work with people they haven’t really worked with before,” said Claypool. “They’re on different shifts, so they really have to communicate. They really like it so far. They’re really, really competitive.”

While she’s no longer a student-employee herself, Claypool has settled into her role as a resource for her student managers.

“As the fall semester went on, I started to realize that even though I’m in this management position, I can still relate to them,” said Claypool. “That’s been my strong point, because then they rely on me. They can come to me and know that because I have that background as a student, that I’m going to understand those concerns.”

Once a little fish in a big pond, Claypool found dining services to be a place where she could connect with people like her and grow individually. While she still finds herself learning and developing professionally in her new full-time role, she now uses that firsthand experience to help the next round of students do the same.

“When this job opened up, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to really grow,” said Claypool. “I thought it would help me a lot and that the things I would learn here would carry with me. I’ve only been here since August full-time and I’ve learned a lot. It hasn’t always been easy, but that fresh perspective of just graduating has really helped me.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

Prepare – I would say it’s a tie between sour cream enchiladas and this garlic lemon tilapia. They’re very different, but I just love cooking. It’s fun. Chef Scott and I get along really well, so he’s always throwing different recipes at me. Yeah, it’s a tie between those two.

Eat – Oh, that’s so easy. My mom makes the best biscuits and gravy in Ohio. It’s her biscuits and gravy. I’ll say it. I’ll put it down there. So, so good.

What’s something that’s on your bucket list?

I definitely want to see more of the world. I’m really into doing different service projects and helping people out. So, there’s one that I was involved in a couple years ago that sent people out to help build houses in Nicaragua. I wasn’t able to go because I was sick, but they’re doing it again, so I’m trying to get involved in it. I just want to help out as much as I can and, even here in the states, we did some work in Arizona and things like that. I’d really like to do that, help out more places. I’d definitely like to get published and hopefully become a professor one day.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?

When I changed my major from pre-med to english, that was a really big stepping point for me. People always say, “What are you going to do with an English major?” My thing was that I’d rather be happy and struggling than struggling to be happy. That was my big lesson, and it’s definitely held up to this point in it’s value.

What would you want to be famous for?

I think being a voice to doing what’s right and helping those who might not have a voice. We’re in a lot of strife and things, especially in our country right now. I always want to be that voice that always tries to unite people for the greater good and be an ally for those who need it.

When are you happiest?

When it’s raining, and I’m curled up by the window with a book. Definitely.

If you were an animal, which would you be?

Hedgehog. Totally. Totally a hedgehog. I’m a little obsessed. Not going to lie.  

What’s the title and genre of a book about your life?

It’d probably have to be Graceful: An Ironic Tale, because I’m not … I always find myself falling and slipping.

Cat or dog? Hedgehog really, but I’ll take dogs.

Cake or pie? Pie. Always pie.


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Staff Spotlight: Sally Shepherd

People have different ways of unwinding and relaxing outside of work. For Sally Shepherd, one outlet is being outdoors, whether through gardening or just being out in nature. Another is the various renovation projects she finds around the house, much to the dismay of her husband.

“I love to restore houses and furniture. I like to make things,” said Shepherd with a smile. “My husband gets angry with me sometimes because we live in a house built in 1849 and it is constant work, so I’ll start trying to see what’s under something and it ends up being a major project. What should have been something little turns into a big project because I started trying to find the history in things.”  

For Shepherd, casual hobbies like gardening or restoration serve as a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle that accompany her day job as an executive manager for Miami University’s dining services, overseeing the daily operations at Harris Dining Center, Western Dining Commons and Maplestreet Station.

“It takes your mind away from the daily routine,” said Shepherd. “I find myself thinking about things that happened at work, or wherever, and I can sometimes come up with solutions too. You can have that ‘aha’ moment. It’s relaxing for me.”

While birds and soil may seem like a far cry from the world of stainless steel, Shepherd believes she is drawn to both for a similar reason. She enjoys being an active participant in the growth of someone or something.

“It’s a sense of satisfaction,” said Shepherd. “Seeing things grow from a piece of bare ground and then all of a sudden to have something popping out of it is really satisfying. It’s like people. You know a student who comes in as a freshman and then you see them leaving as an adult. It is very rewarding.”  

People are a large part of her job. For Shepherd, it’s a priority and something she loves. She leads and manages her staff with the individual in mind. Anyone who has ever met her can attest to being greeted with a big smile.

“I enjoy the interaction with the customers and staff,” said Shepherd. “Food service people are special people. You have to have it in your blood. It’s different everyday and there’s never a mundane moment. I try to make everybody feel welcome.”

Shepherd didn’t always think she would spend most of her career in food service. She started in the industry at the age of 15 as a concession worker at a movie theater. It was only serving popcorn and soda pop, but it was the beginning of discovering her career path.

“It was the customer service thing that started then,” said Shepherd. “I did spend some time working for Ohio Casualty as an underwriter trainee, but it was then I decided a desk job wasn’t for me. I wanted the customer interaction and more activity in my day.”

Shepherd graduated from Miami, but took the long way back to the area. She and her husband, who is also in the food industry, moved to Cleveland, New Orleans, back to Cleveland and upstate New York before returning to Oxford.

Shepherd has worked at Miami since 2000, taking on various managerial roles in dining locations including Martin Dining Hall, Harris Dining Center, Erickson Dining Hall, Hamilton Dining Hall, King Cafe and Armstrong Student Center before being promoted to executive manager. Shepherd still moves around campus frequently, but now does so as a part of her daily rounds to her three dining locations.

“I talk with managers. I talk with the staff and see how things are going,” said Shepherd. “I just like to let them know that I care. The biggest thing with me is these people. I want to make sure they are supported. There are so many things that affect people. I try not to get involved with personal lives, but if they want to share, I’ll listen.”

Shepherd enjoys the challenges and the high-level of energy that accompany her job, but she also takes a lesson from one of her hobbies. Like with gardening, Shepherd strives to create the optimal environment for growth. For her staff, that comes through the relationships she builds, recognizing the role they play in the operation as a whole.

“I approach every one of them everyday to ask how they’re doing. I try to let them know that I am concerned not only about their work here, but for them as individuals,” said Shepherd. “We can’t do what we do without them, and I want them to know that I care.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

PrepareI love making chili. I do have good chili, I think.

EatMiami’s cavatini. Ask Helen Johnson about that. We would have cavatini at Hamilton Dining Hall. When we did, Dave Davis, Helen Johnson, myself, and a couple other managers who worked there would always have lunch together. Every time we had cavatini, Helen would tease me about how much I mounded up my plate with cavatini.

What kitchen appliance are you?

An oven because I keep things warm, and I make things happen.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?

The importance of being open to change, both at work and in my personal life.

What would you want to be famous for?

For making an operation, especially from the staff’s perspective, a place where everybody wants to work and wants to come to. I would be very happy to be famous for that.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring with you?

I’ve thought about this before. I would bring some type of utensil, or a pan type thing to hold water. I would also bring fishing line and a multi-tool.

If you were an animal, which would you be?

I would be a dog. I would be a faithful companion.  

What’s your favorite TV show?

Right now it has to be “The Walking Dead.”

Cat or dog? I’m a dog person.

Cake or pie? I’m more of a cake person.

Staff Spotlight: Diana Byrd

After 34 years working in Miami University’s dining services, Diana Byrd has fielded her fair share of questions about why she still calls Oxford home. While some ask in awe, others pose the question in bewilderment, unable to comprehend why someone would stay in one place for so long.

“Most people think you should go from job to job, but I disagree. If you like a job and you can grow in the job, and you’re happy there, you can always find new challenges,” said Byrd. “I’m very blessed. I’m very fortunate. I feel like, despite all I’ve been through, I have been very fortunate.”

Byrd considers herself an Oxford-native, living in the area since she was eight years old. She began working at Miami as a 25-year-old food service worker, who was also running a daycare out of her own home. She initially sought out the job as a way to get out of the house while still prioritizing time with her two kids during the summer.

“I just really liked working here,” she said. “I took the whole summer off to be with my kids while they were young. That gave me the opportunity.”

Byrd has since worked as a cook, an assistant manager, a general manager and recently earned the title of executive manager for retail sales & market merchandising. Many recognize her as the manager at Market Street at MacCracken.

“I help market and I help with merchandising. I laughingly say I’m the interior decorator of the retail stores,” said Byrd, with a smile. “That’s my title and that’s what I do, but Market Street is my home.”

Whether as employees or guests, Byrd has a knack for connecting with students. She worked for Miami’s Conference Services for nine years where she took care of orientation groups, camps or anybody staying on campus over the summer. She helped kids with problems ranging from, “I got locked out of my room,” to, “I miss my mom.”

Byrd still answers those calls, but now does so using feedback forms, a suggestion board and other resources to stock the shelves at Market Street. One of her primary responsibilities is to buy nearly everything sold at Market Street, which serves 1,700 customers a day. She estimates that nearly 80 percent of her day is devoted to buying food, but Byrd still makes time for her guests.

“I get to know the customers by name, and they know me.” said Byrd. “They come so frequently that I know what they want, what they’re looking for and what they’re asking for. I even meet their parents. It goes to that level, especially if they live at MacCracken.”

Byrd also recognizes that sometimes she needs to go above and beyond for students, particularly if they’re new on campus. When a parent calls to ask about the availability of a particular item in the market, Byrd isn’t afraid to reach out to the student individually to answer any questions they have and show, “we’re here for them.”

“I try to help them and give them the resources they need. I think we are so unique in what we do because we are so customer service-oriented,” said Byrd. “These parents have let their kids go for the first time. I’ve let my kids go to college. I know what’s it’s like. It’s hard to let your kids go.”

Byrd has been there. She watched both her son and her daughter leave for college. Her son attended Morehead State where he played football. He eventually went on to play briefly in the NFL and now lives in Louisiana with his wife and their two children. He is an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the New Orleans Saints.

Byrd’s daughter was the first to leave for college. However, in the summer after her freshman year, she was diagnosed with acute leukemia. She died 18 months later on Christmas day.

“I think that’s partly why I am like I am,” said Byrd. “My daughter went to Miami. She lived in Tappan Hall. She had just finished her first year of college. Whole life in front of her. My son was 12. I’m divorced. I just feel like being around the students … my daughter is always going to be their age.”

Byrd strives to make a difference in someone’s life everyday. Whether it’s a simple gesture, like saying hello to someone, or just offering a smile to a guest, she likes knowing she made an impact like her daughter did for her.

“She had a boyfriend whom she met here at Miami. He and I still connect. He has two kids and is married now, but he still calls me every birthday she has and every Christmas Day,” said Byrd. “That’s pretty doggone special, don’t you think? To have that kind of impact. My daughter had that kind of impact on me. So, I keep coming here and keep making a difference here with these 18 year olds because we don’t know how long any of us has.”

Byrd catches glimpses of her daughter from time to time in the students she works with. She works closely with her eight student managers so they can, in turn, train and manage the other student employees. Byrd has high expectations for her staff, but that doesn’t take away from the close relationships she develops with them.

“I want to help develop people. I really like to be a mentor to them, to train them, and to work closely with them,” said Byrd. “I’m really proud we’re able to run this type of business with all students, a part-time executive manager and myself. You see we do pretty well and they know the rules. We run a tight ship. We have to.”

Byrd is a workaholic and high-achiever who attributes much of her success to having a “vision” and always thinking on to the next project. She is a yoga fanatic, jumping in classes with students at the rec, and a self-described clean freak. Byrd is always looking for new challenges and continues to look forward to work everyday.

“I would not be the same person I am if I didn’t have something happen to me,” said Byrd. “I always say that I’m supposed to be here because I feel like my daughter, in my mind, is always going to be 18, and she’d be 35 now if she was living.”

After over three decades in food service on the Oxford campus, it’s easy to see what Byrd has given to Miami, but in her eyes, it’s just as much about what this job has given her.

“I really think this has helped me … stay alive,” said Byrd. “I have had a lot of stuff, but who hasn’t had stuff in their life? I really feel like I’m supposed to be here.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

Prepare – I can cook, and I do. My banana cake with caramel icing. From scratch. Yes, that’s it. My banana cake with caramel icing. It’s my signature. I don’t give the recipe to anybody.

Eat – If you said drink, I’d say Diet Coke. My favorite dish to eat is fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.

What kitchen appliance are you?

I’m a name brand. My KitchenAid double oven in the wall. That’s my favorite one and I have it in my house.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?

How to be mindful.

What would you want to be famous for?

My compassion.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring with you?

My diet coke, my yoga mat and sunshine. I think that can sum me up pretty well.

What is one thing not many people know about you?

I’m a landlord. I have a student rental named after me called “Byrd Cage.” The people who lived there the first year named it after me. I used to live in that house.

What’s your favorite TV show?

“This Is Us.” It’s just like real life and about stuff that really happens to people.

Cat or dog? I love dogs, but I don’t own any pets. I love my friend’s and family’s pets.

Cake or pie? I like cake. My banana cake.

Staff Spotlight: Amy Allen

Every day is different for assistant manager Amy Allen and after nearly 25 years, she has learned to anticipate the variety.

“I always come up with three plans,” said Allen. “A, B, and C, because plan A never works. It’s like a puzzle trying to organize and fit everything in place.”

Allen’s puzzle is Maplestreet Station where she is in charge of ordering food, assisting in menu planning, and taste-testing. She also works with student employees between scheduling and other tasks.

“You don’t really know what’s going to happen from year to year,” said Allen. “Students’ tastes change and it’s important that our chefs and our executive managers work to find out what students really want. Every year is different.”

Allen is a serious and hard-working manager who leads by example, but also recognizes her role with student employees. She holds everybody to an equally high standard.

“I deal a lot with the student managers, in helping them and guiding them in their role at Maplestreet,” said Allen. “I try to teach them life skills, like why it’s important to be on time. Why it’s important to come prepared to work. Why work and how it’s going to help you in the long-run. The skills they learn here are transferrable to whatever job they might have whether it’s marketing or teaching.”

Allen got her first taste of food service working at McDonald’s. She then moved to work in retail for nearly 15 years before applying for a food service position at Miami University. She got the job and, 10 years later, is still working in dining services.

“Everybody has a story. Everybody has a path and a choice,” said Allen. “[Students] sometimes just see me as a dining manager, but I have other stuff going on in my life too that I don’t think they see.”

Allen is an avid reader, particularly of murder mysteries, and enjoys dining out for new menu ideas. Allen also shares something with her student employees and many of her patrons. She’s a student herself.

“I take two classes a semester and I am working towards a business degree,” said Allen. “When [students] talk about taking a test, I know what they’re talking about because I’m in the same boat as them.”

Whether she’s falling back to her “B” or “C” plan for the day, or she is trying to accommodate the tastes of the changing student body from year to year, Allen enjoys the variety working at Miami offers.

“Maybe we have full-time staff that attend training or maybe they have a doctor’s appointment or a student has an exam they forgot about,” said Allen. “I’m moving people around to meet the needs of all the operations throughout the day. It’s like a puzzle. Every day is a different day.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

PrepareTo prepare … this is old school, but swiss steak, only because that’s my husband’s favorite.

EatFried chicken and mashed potatoes.

What’s your favorite TV show?

I would say The Big Bang Theory. I’ve just now started watching Lethal Weapon too. 

Cat or dog? Both, because I have both. My dog, who is almost 10, is now the father of a 6-month old kitten that we brought home, so he isn’t happy with us.  

Cake or pie? Pie.

Staff Spotlight: Alex Ovia

Alex Ovia describes himself as laid-back, easy-going, focused and serious.

When you sit down and speak with Ovia, you quickly realize it’s an apt description of the new general manager at Garden Commons.

Ovia isn’t new to Miami University. He’s in his 18th year on campus, spending his first 17 at Bell Tower Place in the same role. While Garden Commons is only a short walk from Bell Tower, the shift isn’t without some adjustment as Ovia now oversees the operations of not only the busy Garden Commons buffet, but also Garden Market and Dorsey Market.

There’s a little bit of challenge knowing the different market and the different clientele here,” said Ovia. “Obviously, I’m up to the challenge.”

Ovia is quick to point out that he isn’t alone though. The work his staff puts in is invaluable, including the work done by student employees and student managers who are often rotating across different stations and must be flexible and adaptable.

“Without the student help, we wouldn’t make it,” said Ovia. “They’re very resourceful and are a tremendous help to our organization and to our team. I am really excited working side-by-side with them, along with my staff, employees and team. They’re a very, very important element of our business.”

Like many students who work during their college years, Ovia got his first taste of working in food service during college where he worked as a busboy and a cook before taking an interest in management. After college, he worked at Bob Evans for nearly 12 years in a management role and moved to Miami in 1998, to work at the newly constructed Bell Tower Place.

Ovia is focused and driven professionally, but he doesn’t let work consume him.

“Family is very important to me. I’ve been married for 26, 27 years now … my wife is going to kill me,” said Ovia with a smile. “If I have to say my preference, I’d say God first, family and then work. So, that’s just very important to me.”

Ovia attends church, values family time with his wife and three kids, and finds time for some of his other hobbies, including “football” (soccer), ping pong, watching American football and, most importantly, traveling.

“Oh, I love traveling,” said Ovia, who is originally from Nigeria. “My favorite place in the states is Arizona, specifically Sedona. It’s very, very peaceful. My wife and I went to this rural forest area. You could drop a pin and you could hear the sound of the pin drop. It could just connect to your soul and spirit. We were just there and just relaxing. I will never forget that, really. It was so beautiful.”

While Ovia’s serious approach is invaluable in directing his team, it’s his easy-going nature and appreciation for new opportunities that allow him to thrive with the diverse people who work at – or visit – Garden Commons.

“I love my guests,” said Ovia with a grin. “Those are the kind of people that put a smile on my face. I love my guests. The students I interact with. The student managers that we help to shape their futures. I think we are very special here at Miami.”

Whether interacting with customers or working with staff, Ovia enjoys what he does and enjoys the challenges that come with the job.

“At the end of the day, when you know that your customers, your students, your staff, your parents and your management team is satisfied, you go home knowing you accomplished something that day.” said Ovia. “It makes you feel good.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

PrepareOh boy, I have to go back home. I’m originally from Nigeria, West Africa, so it’s called jollof rice. It’s a mixture of rice, sauce, all the spices you want … curry, thyme … just mix it and you can use beef or shrimp or whatever mix you want. It’s similar to stir-fry rice.

EatWell, I grew up eating a lot of carbohydrate food like rice, beans, meat, steak and stuff like that. One thing I don’t really eat a lot of is sweets. We’re not a big fan of cake, dessert and we don’t eat a lot of that. I don’t care too much for it.

What’s your favorite TV show?

I like action movies. “X-Men” … movies like that. There’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” That’s what I’m watching on TV right now.  

Cat or dog? Neither, but if I had to choose, it would definitely be dog.

Cake or pie? If I have to choose, probably cake.