August 23, 2021
How a Food Inspector Found Her Leadership Stride
For the past 10 years, Sadie Schuldt led food testing at research labs and private companies across the Midwest. A natural leader, Sadie was eager to sharpen her leadership skills, particularly in her new role overseeing food inspections at city events for the Milwaukee Health Department.
She knew the Integrated Food Systems Leadership (IFSL) program would accelerate her skills in a manageable, flexible format. And so, she leapt. Sadie enrolled in IFSL and the University of Minnesota’s Applied Sciences Leadership (ASCL) Master of Professional Studies program at the same time—and she’s already reaping the rewards. She has been promoted to environmental health coordinator at the Milwaukee Health Department, she’s expanded her leadership skills, and she’s applying a food systems approach to improve her city’s food safety in real-time.
We chatted with Sadie about her leadership style transformation, her approach to food inspections, her long-term aspiration to influence global systems for the good, and how a project about a meat and four-cheese lasagna blew her mind.
How did you discover the IFSL program and what prompted you to apply?
In 2020, I received an email from IFSL that featured my supervisor, Carly Hegarty, who is the director of Consumer Environmental Health for the Milwaukee Health Department. We chatted about the program, and she shared how much she enjoyed it and how it could be the right fit for me.
I wanted to improve my leadership skills, and I felt like IFSL could give me tools to be a better leader. I also wanted to further my education, but I didn’t have the option to be a full-time student again. When I learned that IFSL and the ASCL program were designed specifically for working professionals, I thought, let’s do this.
The programs’ schedules are super flexible, and the IFSL cohort and instructional team understand we have other commitments. I didn’t know how it would work with my other responsibilities, but it’s worked out well so far.
What has your experience in the program been like now that you’re halfway through?
The ASCL master’s and IFSL Regents certificate programs teach you to think in a systems approach instead of focusing on one aspect. In the IFSL program, each course builds on the other as you move through the program, and you learn more about the nuances of the food system. The more I know about how the food system works, the more confidence I have. With the pandemic and seeing many of our supply chains break down, the program has given me tools to try to improve these systems and be the change I want to see.
I’ve also learned how to work better as a member of a team. I remember in one class, a classmate discussed how to artificially inseminate a pig. I had never thought about that in my life. But when we got to food compliance laws, many of my classmates weren’t as familiar, and I was able to excel and share more. It’s really cool to leverage your own personal strengths and pool them with a group of wonderful people, not only learning from the class but also from one another.
Can you share an example of a project that stretched your thinking?
Our biggest project is the adopt-a-product, where you pick a food item and track where every ingredient is produced. My team picked a meat and four-cheese lasagna. I assumed from my background in food testing that you just test the product’s ingredients and then the finished project goes to the store. I didn’t realize how many different ingredients and inspections go into making one product—or how many farms have to collectively work together to make even one type of cheese. In breaking everything down, the process was so much bigger than I ever realized. It blew my mind.
I look at how food is produced differently now. Everyone thinks that locally sourced is the best, but sometimes, that’s not the most efficient way to produce food. Being able to break down the food system and think critically about it has helped me in my field.
How have you applied learnings from IFSL to your professional work?
I conduct food inspections and teach event operators in Milwaukee about food safety. I’ve been able to apply the food systems approach to this work. I explain to operators how they fit into the food system, I put things into context, and I give them options to fix issues. I used to have tunnel vision and would tell operators, “This food is not right. You have to fix it.” Now I explain why they have to fix it, and operators can step back and see their role from a new perspective. It’s a teachable moment, and they’re more likely to follow the rules and apply best practices going forward.
I’m glad I can do something I love to do, and through IFSL, combine my knowledge of food microbiology with the full food systems picture to educate operators. Being able to educate the community I live in as a leader is pretty cool. Food safety should be everyone’s goal.
Long-term, I hope to apply the systems approach to our global systems, such as climate change and how agriculture can contribute to or reduce greenhouse gases. I want to explore what we can do to be a better species. How can we be leaders for our children’s children?
How have the programs helped you grow as a leader?
My background is in microbiology, and I’ve supervised microbiology labs. I used to find myself knowing what to do but feeling like I was in a shell—I didn’t have the confidence to be a leader. The ASCL and IFSL programs pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the tools to be a better leader. The programs provided me with a safe space to try new things, receive feedback, and expand my skills as a leader.
Now I have more confidence in my leadership style, and I was promoted in May. I think my experiences in IFSL and ASCL played a direct role in my promotion. My time management is better and my communications skills have improved. I’m just incredibly happy that I took the plunge and signed up for the programs.
What do you want another food professional to know about the programs?
If you're on the fence about it, rip off the Band-Aid and jump in the pool. Just do it. It's going to change your life, it’s going to change your profession, and you’re going to gain so much more than classroom knowledge. It is transformational.
I know for me, one of the barriers to joining was financial aid. But in earning my IFSL certificate concurrently with the master’s degree in ASCL, I was able to qualify for more financial aid and scholarships. Having the option for federal financial aid through the ASCL program can really help make your financial decision.
Integrated Food Systems Leadership (IFSL) Program
Designed for professionals interested in accelerating their careers, the IFSL program is a unique, online, graduate certificate program that fosters leadership, collaboration, and innovation across the food system.
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Schedule a consultation call for more information.