And One to Grow On – Dining Services Marks 25th Birthday
by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday. Photos by Jessica L. Tobias except as credited.
As revolutions go, it couldn’t have begun more quietly: A two-column article in the Aug. 27, 1984, edition of the Spotlight campus newspaper, unassumingly headlined “‘Food Plan’ being offered this year in College’s new dining facility.”
Yet the opening of the Susquehanna Room in Williamsport Area Community College’s then-new Hager Lifelong Education Center – a decided and welcome change from the cafeteria and vending machines in Klump Academic Center – was the first step in a quarter-century journey to provide nutritious and affordable dining options on campus.
The genesis of Dining Services’ professionalism and purpose was evident even in those long-ago school days. The aiming-to-please Susquehanna Room featured entrées, sandwiches, a salad bar, beverages and soft ice cream – with meal prices that were equally palatable. Hours were adjusted to accommodate early-morning and evening classes, and students were encouraged to purchase one of three meal plans conveniently encoded on photo identification cards.
"It's different each year what the students like and don't like."
The trip hasn’t been without stumbles and detours, the occasional experiment that fell short of promise. As W.A.C.C. evolved into Pennsylvania College of Technology and enrollment nearly doubled, however, one dining unit grew into nine, and students and staff alike continue to enjoy an unprecedented variety of places to eat.
Want pizza? Try Penn Central adjacent to the Susquehanna Room or Fresh in the Breuder Advanced Technology and Health Sciences Center (a particular godsend to Health Sciences students on a daylong tether to labs in the west wing of the building). Hungry for a unique lunch? Grab a panini from Wrapture in the Academic Center. Need an eye-opening jolt of caffeine and a bagel to start your day? Look no farther than Bookmarks Café in the Madigan Library.
There also are convenience stores in the Bush Campus Center and in College West Apartments, occasional special dinners – steak and crab legs among the most popular – and hot meals in off-site locations such as the Schneebeli Earth Science Center and the Lumley Aviation Center.
A recent lunchtime conversation with Crissy L. McGinness, director of dining services, and Amy S. Lingg, marketing assistant, provided impressive insight into a busy “couple” of years for Dining Services and made it clear that the campus’s expansion offers no time to rest on one’s accomplishments.
The imminent addition of nearly 270 on-campus students and new dining venues through the soon-to-open Dauphin Hall residential unit (within Rose Street Commons student-housing complex) on the far-western reaches of main campus, part of the $45.27 million Stage X construction and renovation program at Penn College, has made “configuration,” “consideration” and “cooperation” bywords for the department.
“We’re working with Residence Life, coming up with hours and programming that will support the needs of those students,” McGinness said of the planned 334-seat area. “There will be a larger convenience store, two private dining rooms for quiet study hours, a more upscale feel, more healthy menu selections.”
Alongside expansion of units and a broader menu of food options, the department has benefited from an infusion of knowledgeable staff from hotels, national-chain restaurants, the hospitality industry and military “mess halls.” A far cry from the ladle-wielding “lunch ladies” of cafeterias past, today’s professionals have to navigate the ever-shifting tastes of patrons – “It’s different each year what the students like and don’t like,” Lingg notes – while encouraging healthy eating and accommodating those with food allergies. No small responsibility, given that the department also prepares meals for the youngsters in the college’s Children’s Learning Center.
“We have trained and tried to prepare for both food safety and for worst-case scenarios like pandemic planning,” said Vicki K. Killian, dining services manager. “We have visited other campuses to see what other colleges are doing. There are more special events and promotions (such as Turkey Bowling and the food-sampling parties) held in the Susquehanna Room each year. The retail areas have grown tremendously, especially the Wildcat and West Side stores. When I first started, ‘the C-Store’ was in the CC Commons area and we had one cooler, one freezer and a couple of small shelving units. We maybe had between 125 and 175 items; now, we offer over 800.”
If growth has been Dining Services’ constant, “green” has become its commitment.
Sustainability is evident in its patronage of local farmers – who supply garden-fresh produce, grass-fed beef and hormone-free milk – and in the bottling of Penn College Water from regional springs.
“You can’t get much fresher than that!” said Sarah R. Shott, an information technology: Web and applications development major from Tresckow, and a Student Government Association liaison with Dining Services.
The Susquehanna Room’s food scraps are transported 10 miles south for composting at the Earth Science Center, which Shott noted has reduced that unit’s waste by 595 pounds over last year. The introduction of washable plastic tumblers has removed thousands of disposable beverage cups and lids from the refuse stream, CC Commons has eliminated trays (and lessened its dishwashing costs), and “greenware” made from recycled materials is used at larger catering venues.
Dining Services added an executive chef and has a registered dietician on staff, and it posts an online ingredient guide for all of its items. And just for good measure, it regularly engages students to help plan menus and increase mutual understanding.
“That helps us to get hard, true facts,” McGinness said, “and those survey results from our dining units help to build a rapport.” The requirement that resident students purchase a board-meal plan, for instance, initially met with resistance. Helped by creation of the liaison position and an outreach effort to credibly show students that meal plans are more practical and economical (and less ominous than “Big Brother” or a second mother), the initial furor gave way.
“I get to interact with students one on one and listen to their comments and concerns about Dining Services,” Shott said. “I believe students like to talk to me about concerns they have because they feel comfortable, as well as relate to me as a student.” She also is involved in SGA, which established a Dining Services Committee to encourage input – a “great opportunity to be heard,” she said.
Moms and Dads also were invited to participate through a contest called “Recipes From Home.”
“Parents got to send in their student’s favorite recipe, and the winner would have their dish featured in one of the dining units,” Shott explained. “Once they all were collected, they were narrowed down to five. Then, the five choices were made and sampled by students that attended an SGA meeting.”
The finalists were Lemon Cheesecake, Ranch Chicken, Country-Style Potatoes, Beef and Fries Casserole, and Orange-Rosemary Chicken. In a close competition, the cheesecake won; Mom received a Dining Services apron and a certificate, and Lingg said the dessert will be added to one of next year’s menus – a little touch of home in this ever-growing campus community. ■
- The Food Services Department is established on campus. Previously, Canteen vending was available to students in the Klump Academic Center basement.
- The Susquehanna Room, the first on-campus dining unit, opens. The 340-seat facility offers hamburgers and other sandwiches among its items.
- Food Services Department is created, offering three declining-balance meal plans.
- The portable Streetcart Named Desire serves hamburgers, hot dogs, cold soda and featured hot sandwiches outside the Academic Center.
- Taco Express, a snack station offering Mexican-style foods in a café-like setting, opens in the back wing of the Academic Center.
- Schneebelli Earth Science Center snack bar opens.
- Bush Campus Center opens. Center Court includes a snack shop and small convenience store (originally located in what is now the CC Commons/game area).
- Penn's Inn offers basic snacks and drinks during events.
- Penn Pizza begins pizza delivery.
- Campus Center Renovation includes:
- The Bistro, a sit-down restaurant that replaces Center Court
- The CoffeeHouse
- Relocation of the convenience store, renamed Wildcat Express, to its current site
- First use of scan forms to add meal-plan charges to tuition bills.
- Campus Center Renovation includes:
- The International Café opens in the Academic Center.
- The Bistro and The CoffeeHouse are honored with Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards from The National Association of College and University Food Services.
- The Coconut Grove smoothie bar opens in Penn’s Inn.
- Nature's Cove, the renovated snack bar at the Earth Science Center, opens.
- Susquehanna Room renovation.
- Penn Central opens, offering pizza by the slice and grab-'n'-go items
- WestSide, a small convenience store in the College West Apartments complex, opens.
- Coconut Grove and CoffeeHouse concepts are combined into one unit located in the Campus Center CoffeeHouse.
- CBORD software/hardware purchased to operate meal plans.
- Begins serving milk – free of herbicides, pesticides and growth hormones – from a local vendor.
- In July, a pilot program of online vending begins with three machines.
- Ability to accept credit cards in the office for meal-plan payment is added.
- Wildcat Plus Program introduced – separate tender for use at off-campus merchants and various locations around campus.
- Two new meal plans are introduced, targeting commuter-style students.
- Wrapture opens in the Academic Center, replacing the International Café and featuring wraps, panini and specialty sandwiches.
- Juiced – a juice bar in the Fitness Center at the Campus Center – opens.
- Penn Pizza delivery discontinued.
- Meal-plan costs are added as an option to the online Student Information System.
- Kiosks are introduced at Wrapture to speed the process of placing orders.
- Webfood is introduced for Wrapture and Penn Central, allowing customers to order food from any computer for pickup at these units.
- Begins buying grass-fed beef from a local cooperative.
- CC Commons, a buffet-style dining unit, opens in the Campus Center.
- Vending replaces Fitness Center juice bar.
- Wildcat Plus plan is changed, requiring students to have a meal plan before they can have a Wildcat Plus plan.
- Begins selling water that was bottled from local springs.
- Wrapture receives first-place honors in the NACUFS competition.
- The CoffeeHouse is renamed and moves to the new Madigan Library as Bookmarks Café, adding grab-’n’-go sandwiches and salads to the menu.
- Vending removed from Fitness Center.
- Fresh opens in the Breuder Advanced Technology and Health Sciences Center, featuring pizza, grab-’n’-go sandwiches and salads.
- Higher One card introduced to facilitate student refunds.
- Credit cards/PCT OneCard accepted at all registers, in addition to cash and meal plans.
- Board plans become required for students living in on-campus housing.
- Wildcat Plus program discontinued at off-campus merchants due to increase in students using PCT OneCard.
- Lunch delivery available to Lumley Aviation Center, as Webfood expands to include these students.
- Food Services changes its name to Dining Services.
- Dauphin Hall dining unit and convenience store scheduled to open.
Penn College welcomes comments that are on topic and civil. Read our full disclaimer.