Lauren Kaskey, Boston Public Schools

Lauren Kaskey

“The MPH was where I found my skills-based coursework that I lean on when managing the large budgets and program that spans a city.”

Manager, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Boston Public Schools
MS-Nutrition/MPH combined degree program, 2013
MPH concentration, Generalist

Tell us about your current job
I manage the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) for the Boston Public Schools. FFVP is a USDA grant program targeting high-need elementary students. The kids get a fruit or vegetable snack either between breakfast and lunch, or lunch and end-of-day. Many children from low-income communities get most of their calories from the National School Lunch Program, and adding a fruit or vegetable snack to their day is a great way to increase number of servings in the day. We couple the snacks with nutrition education, and the kids have the benefit of increased understanding of health and wellness. Additionally, we rely on positive peer pressure to get kids to try new produce, and it seems to be working!
The way the grant is organized requires each school to have a separate budget, and I manage the budgets of the 31 schools throughout the district. I manage an On Site Coordinator at each school, who receives and distributes the produce, and connects with teachers regarding the educational component. I also create the nutrition lessons and activities, and support the On Site Coordinators in their career development. This has been a great opportunity to serve over 15,000 students for the Boston Public School System, and I have learned a lot about grants management and school food.

What inspired you to pursue an MPH in your area of specialization?
I have a dual degree in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition with Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. I grew up in rural Massachusetts in a farming community. From there, I went to Rochester, NY, which was the first time I was truly exposed to urban poverty and issues. I did quite a bit of volunteering while in Rochester, working with children wherever I went. I was struck by the snacks that these kids were getting—it was really whatever had been donated. So not only did they struggle with issues of homelessness and domestic abuse, but also malnutrition. By confronting my own privilege of growing up in idyllic Western Mass., and seeing systems of oppression that started so early for these children, I felt a drive to change the system. Food and nutrition were a natural fit, because I am a passionate home cook and deeply connected to food and the culture surrounding it. But I also wanted the practical skills to manage large scale programming, so I could reach a larger population and work to create systems with integrity. The MPH was where I found my skills-based coursework that I lean on when managing the large budgets and program that spans a city.

What drew you to the Tufts’ Program?
I was originally drawn to the Tufts’ MS/MPH dual degree program through my research of Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Learning about the MS curriculum at the Friedman School helped me understand the skills I would need to support a more equitable and sustainable food system. In researching other programs, I couldn’t find any with the explicit food system focus that I found at Friedman. However, in order to make the most out of my graduate education, I knew that I also wanted more skills-based coursework. I wanted both the subject-matter expertise, which I found at Friedman, and the skills to analyze policy and manage large scale programs, which I found in the Public Health Program at Tufts Medical School. The dual MS/MPH degree was a great fit for my needs.

How did your Tufts degree help prepare you to work in the field (or what were the highlights of your Program)?
I use my budgeting and management skills every single day in my work. I could not do this job without extreme proficiency in spreadsheets (thank you Professor Haas!). My Applied Learning Experience was almost a microcosm of this program. The skills I learned for my ALE have helped me understand how to manage a project from start to finish, effectively communicate with funders, and create and follow a timeline. When an administrator wants to change the way that we run the program, I can make the case for certain details based on a solid foundation of behavior change science, and this helps ensure that these programs are as rich and effective as possible. Finally, my negotiations course has been helpful in my work and life, but also in helping friends work their way through job transitions. Everyone should take negotiations!

What advice do you have for prospective students?
Try to figure out what skills you would like to use in your job, and take coursework that supports those goals. I did a lot of interning and research while I was in school, and it was a great way to learn what I did or did not want to do with my life. Meet with your academic adviser early and often—he or she can be a great resource for you! Also, meet with the Career Center and read their materials to learn the language of the job hunt/job interview. And finally, an MPH is a valuable degree, but you should be very clear on what it means for you financially. In the public and nonprofit sectors, the starting pay can be low. But the rewards of doing work for the common good are gratifying. Before you embark on your degree, take some time to estimate salary for the positions that you are interested in, and evaluate whether or not the salary bump makes sense for the level of loans you may have to take out.