Barry McNamara  |  Published January 23, 2024

A Winning Recipe

Food, higher ed and Illinois: Monmouth College checks all the boxes for Amber Dawson, Aramark’s new dining services director.

AMBER DAWSON: Aramark's new dining services director is pictured at the ASAP Christmas dinner on Dec. 5. AMBER DAWSON: Aramark's new dining services director is pictured at the ASAP Christmas dinner on Dec. 5.MONMOUTH, Ill. – During a career spent working in the restaurant/food service industry, Amber Dawson came to a conclusion a few years ago while employed in the Rocky Mountain state.

“I realized that higher education is where my heart lies,” said Dawson, who, at the time, was in the midst of a seven-year stint with Bon Appétit Catering at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

But along with food service and higher education, Dawson’s heart lies in the Land of Lincoln, so the East Peoria, Illinois, native was thrilled last fall to see a dining services director opening at Monmouth through Aramark, the College’s food service provider.

“When the position came open, I was ecstatic,” she said. “It’s great to be back closer to family and to continue a career path I’m passionate about. I’m looking forward to a great partnership with Monmouth College.”

‘As close to home as possible’

Dawson has now been on the job for two months at Monmouth, and being back in Illinois feels like home. Her goal now is to provide that same feeling to Monmouth’s students.

“These kids are far away from home, many of them for the first time,” said Dawson. “My priority is making them feel as comfortable as possible and as close to home as possible.”

“These kids are far away from home, many of them for the first time. My priority is making them feel as comfortable as possible and as close to home as possible.” – Amber Dawson

To do that, Dawson said it’s important to provide a personal touch, and the College’s size affords her and her staff of around 50 employees that opportunity.

“The students come in here every day, sometimes three times a day,” she said. “We try to get to know them personally, knowing their name, knowing if they’re on the basketball team, knowing their favorite sandwich.”

Two big bumps in the road

Beginning four years ago, food service at Monmouth took a major detour from everyday operations. The COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down Aramark’s operations for several months, then led to the implementation of several precautionary measures once students were back on campus.

And before those new operating guidelines could be entirely phased out, an October 2022 fire in Stockdale Center, which houses the Main Dining Room, caused more extraordinary measures. For several months, that included feeding students in Mellinger Commons in the Center for Science and Business, far from the kitchen where food was prepared. Renovations continue at Stockdale Center, which is still only accessible to students from the west side of campus. Renovations will be completed this year.

“When the position came open, I was ecstatic. It’s great to be back closer to family and to continue a career path I’m passionate about. I’m looking forward to a great partnership with Monmouth College.” – Amber Dawson

“The kids have been really understanding, really resilient, in the face of the unfortunate changes that have happened,” said Dawson, who is looking forward to the return to normal. “I don’t know what that looks like, having another food station on the lower level of Stockdale. It will be a whole new experience for me, but I’m excited to be a part of the rebuild.”

Fortunately, though, food service isn’t a new experience to Dawson. She got her start in the heart of Illinois, working for three different establishments in the East Peoria/Washington area before heading west to Colorado in 2016.

“Food is at the heart of everything,” she said. “Whether times are good, happy or sad, food is part of everything we do. It’s something we all enjoy, and I enjoy helping to please people through food.”

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