Over the last several years, A.F. Wendling’s Foodservice, a family-owned business since 1913, has partnered with West Virginia Wesleyan College to provide experiential learning opportunities for students while adding value to the business.
Beginning with a collaboration with Dr. Susan Aloi, director of the School of Business, and students in the WVWC Business Program, Wendling’s internship program has grown to include multiple fields and up to two students per semester in varying career pursuits and projects built around students skills , interests, and business needs. Projects have ranged from IT data mining, digital imaging, statistical analysis, nutritional information for product catalogue & website, to a new program that provides menus, recipes, and nutritional analysis for West Virginia’s senior centers and nutrition sites.
The program took a leap when Wendling’s Marketing Coordinator Scott Buchanan, a 2004 graduate of Wesleyan, and Jill Okes, a 2009 graduate and Experiential Learning Coordinator at the College, began to talk about solutions for a business need that might create a new learning experience. Both felt that this avenue would be more productive and challenging than a traditional project experience.
In the past, Wendling’s outsourced the development of West Virginia Senior Center menus to various West Virginia-licensed dietitians, however turnover of these resources was creating continuity issues and delays. Buchanan learned that Wesleyan was working with a local dietitian, Megan Mullins, as a resource for the Exercise Science Department and arranged a meeting with Okes and Rae Emrick, director of Wesleyan’s School of Exercise Science & Athletic Training, to discuss the opportunity. Emrick also serves as the faculty sponsor for the students who would participate in the program.
Wendling’s goal was to bring the menu development program in-house as much as possible and link that effort into an internship focused on nutrition that would benefit both organizations. Wendling’s decided to purchase software used by dietitians for various nutritional programs ranging from day care centers to senior centers and then work with the dietician to develop a training program for interns that could be built upon by the interns themselves.
Two years later, the program is now in full swing, and the menus and recipes continue to improve through a collaboration with the WV Bureau of Senior Services and Wendling’s dietician, who ensure menus meet nutritional guidelines and needs of West Virginia’s seniors. At the same time, by utilizing core menus and products, the centers benefit from lower costs through group buying.
Exercise Science major Aryn House ’18 of Hedgesville, WV has been working with the program
for two semesters and has had the unique experience of traveling to the Bureau of Senior Services in Charleston to discuss issues and opportunities, as well as visiting local senior nutrition sites to work with staff and cooks to gain feedback on how the menus are actually implemented and ways to make them better.
Reflecting on her internship experience, House said, “The project I have been working on is complex, yet structured to allow me to work independently with guidance from our dietician and my faculty sponsor, as well as Wendling’s Project Coordinator, Scott Buchanan.
“The role involves problem solving, creativity, and resourcefulness in finding the right pieces that fit the puzzle,” House continued. “It also requires both patience and persistence as we have to meet deadlines and deliver a quality product and solution to consumers. I have been fortunate to meet the end users of our products and by listening to their needs, we have come up with the right balance of meeting customer needs and achieving our business goals.”
Emrick believes one of the most valuable aspects of the program is giving students “real world” experience where they can apply concepts learned in the classroom. Reflecting on the program, Emrick said, “Some students really do not know what to expect upon graduation, and it can be scary. What I have seen with students like Aryn and others who have been in Wendling’s program is that they have gained confidence in their abilities and feel good about their contributions to the business and the opportunities to help improve the program.”
Okes spoke of House’s success over two semesters and said, “Aryn has not only helped build a better program, but she is actively recruiting students who might be interested in a similar experience. It is always a challenge to find the right fit for students, but when a peer who has lived the experience reaches out to another student, it connects even better.
Okes continued, “Wendling’s has really helped shape our approach to experiential learning, and they have developed a good model for other businesses and organizations to follow.”
President and Owner Chris Wendling, who attended Wesleyan from 1995-1998 and left to run the family-owned business, said, “We are fortunate to have a great local resource for talent at Wesleyan and have benefited through the efforts of those involved in our intern program. We have hired a number of people from Wesleyan, and they have made a difference in our business.”
Cutline: Wendling’s team includes (L-R) Chris Wendling, Jill Okes ’09, Scott Buchanan ’04, interns Aryn House ’18 and Gonzalo Munoz ’18, Human Resources Coordinator Michelle Beckner, and Tanner Graham ’15.