A graduate of Tennessee Tech University has embarked on an inspiring journey that has led to a rewarding career in the field of community health and nutrition. After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Science, Hailey Sullivan, returned to her alma mater, Jackson County High School, as a teacher. Her dedication to education and love for nurturing young minds paved the way for a remarkable transition.
“I graduated from Tennessee Tech with a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer science in 2014. Right after, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to give back to my alma mater, Jackson County High School,” said Sullivan. “I was thrilled to accept a teaching position, where I could share my knowledge and love for the subjects like nutrition, child development and fashion merchandising with the students.”
For six years, Sullivan dedicated herself to educating and empowering young minds, instilling a sense of curiosity and awareness of healthy living.
“It was fulfilling to see how much my students absorbed and how they began making informed choices about their nutrition and lifestyles,” she said.
In March 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Sullivan found herself at a crossroads. The Nutrition Director position for the Jackson County School System opened up, and she saw an opportunity to make an even greater impact.
“I applied for the Nutrition Director role, a position that held immense responsibility. Little did I know that I would be offered the job on the very day all schools in Tennessee closed due to COVID-19 protocols," she said. “It was an unprecedented challenge, but I knew I had to seize the moment and work tirelessly to ensure no child went home hungry.”
In this new role, her days were filled with planning and serving menus that catered to the nutritional needs of students aged 4 to 18 across four school buildings. But it wasn’t just about the meals; it was about fostering an environment that nurtured the health and well-being of the students.
“I oversee policy formations, budgetary direction and compliance with federal and state regulations for various programs like the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program and Afterschool Snack/Supper Program,” Sullivan explained. “But my most vital responsibility is ensuring every student receives delicious, nutritious meals, irrespective of their economic background.”
Her passion for student nutrition came through in the way she spoke about how she believes everyone should work in a school cafeteria at least once in their life. Sullivan said that it is truly inspirational to see how hard nutrition staff work together to nourish students.
“Interacting with each of the students coming through the breakfast and lunch line and seeing them leave with smiles and full bellies-that’s what motivates us the most.”
Throughout her journey, Sullivan knew she wanted to make an even more significant impact. To become a better advocate for her hometown, she decided to pursue an advanced degree. Earning a master’s degree in community health and nutrition has given her the tools to promote healthy nutrition habits for students and further support the school system.
“The graduate program at Tennessee Tech was nothing short of amazing,” Sullivan stated. “I could continue my job while furthering my education. The curriculum was designed to prepare competent nutrition professionals with a strong focus on community health-it accomplished that and more.”
Every assignment and project in the master’s program directly related to real-world issues Sullivan faced as a school nutrition professional.
“From understanding child food allergies to advocating for free school meals for all students in Tennessee, the coursework was invaluable,” she shared.
Even though Sullivan started a career first she urges aspiring students to embrace the community health and nutrition program at Tennessee Tech without hesitation.
“Don’t wait!” she exclaimed. “The exceptional program allows you to network with professionals from diverse backgrounds, sharing ideas that will to success in specific fields. It’s an opportunity to make a difference, to enhance communities and positively impact the lives of students.”