FNCE® 2017 Opening Session Remarks

10/23/2017 - Below are the prepared remarks by Academy President Donna S. Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, at the Opening Session of the 2017 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo™ October 21 in Chicago, Ill.

The following videos were featured at the FNCE® 2017 Opening Session:

President Donna S. Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, Opening Session Remarks

If Lulu could only see us now. What will our next 100 years look like? What will we be doing? How will we promote nutrition and health in the coming years and decades? Where do we find innovation and creativity? And, who are our role models?


It is an honor for me to be serving as the Academy’s 2017-2018 President. I am humbled to be leading our organization, especially now because 2017 is our Centennial year. Our 100th anniversary!

I am inspired by an early Academy historian, Mary Barber, who, in 1931, wrote: “An honorable past lies behind us, a developing present is with us and a promising future lies before us.” For 100 years, the Academy has honored the vision of our founders by working throughout food and health systems to improve the nation’s health.

And, they have continued to evolve, becoming more global and complex. These challenges also create unprecedented opportunities for innovation and collaboration. During our Centennial year, we are working to choose a bold purposeful way to continue this legacy with a new vision for the Academy –  one that will not only elevate the profession and expand our reach, but do more to improve health around the world.

It is imperative that we advance our credibility by broadening our scope into new and different practice areas and promote shifts in our roles and responsibilities.

You may know, my special interest is in creating a nutritious and healthful environment for children, especially in schools. You may also know, I am from the South, where Mac-n-Cheese is a vegetable and grits are a staple.

As a parent, grandparent, taxpayer and registered dietitian nutritionist, I could not be happier to see what we are doing for children. Nutrition and health for kids is a nonpartisan issue. We share a passion for creating a future for children that will endure for their lifetimes.

For two years, I’ve been inspired by the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. I call her “FLOTUS.” She’s one of the Academy’s 2017 Honorary Members.

I believe there is no greater calling than to be able to teach children to live a healthier life, and Mrs. Obama shares the same passions as the members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In my capacity as a school nutrition director, I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with “FLOTUS” on several occasions. I was honored to be asked to speak at the October 2016 celebration at the White House for the “Let’s Move” initiative. I also helped with the final fall harvest at the White House Garden. What an honor it was to celebrate the accomplishments that happened as a result of “Let’s Move!”

Nutrition and health for kids is one that all of us can get behind and celebrate. We share a passion for molding a future for children that will endure for their lifetimes. Healthier children really do make a healthier nation.

This photo is one of the most interesting and inspiring parts of the White House Garden – a table created by faculty and students at the University of Virginia. The table and other structures in the garden contain wood from throughout the United States, including significant sites in American history.

White House Garden Table

They include Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland and – a welcome sight for this lifelong Georgian – Martin Luther King Junior’s home in Atlanta. As I look at that table, I think of the Academy and our leadership in the world of food and nutrition. We often describe this leadership role by saying, “We are at the table.” But it occurs to me – we are not just at the table, we are setting the table and inviting others to join us.

As we all know, our organization was founded in large part to aid in the war effort at home and abroad during World War I. Today, RDNs and NDTRs serve vital roles in the Air Force, Army, Navy and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, as well as through civil service and the VA health care system.

The Academy’s commitment is strong to provide these heroes and their families with nutrition services and education and to address issues of food insecurity that too many of them face.

The Academy’s Policy Initiatives and Advocacy Team, with member volunteers, continue to work with our supporters in Congress to address these issues and others of immense importance to service personnel and veterans.

Building and keeping a strong, resilient military begins with fit, healthy children who are able to serve. A 2010 report by Mission Readiness, an organization of retired military leaders, found more than 1 in 4 Americans of potential military enlistment age were “too fat to serve.” The Academy considers the military a powerful partner in obesity prevention programs in the wider population and lessons we learn in our schools and communities can translate to the military setting as well.

Please join me in thanking all our members who protect our national security by safeguarding and improving the nutritional health of our service members and veterans.

At this time I would like to take a moment to offer the Academy’s thoughts, prayers and condolences to all of our members who have been affected in recent months by the hurricanes and storms in the Caribbean and Southeast United States and by the wildfires that have created such destruction and loss of life in the West.

The Academy family is with you in mind, body and spirit.

Our Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund supports the personal and professional life-rebuilding efforts of Academy members, students and other dietetics professionals who have been affected by disasters. Today, I am honored to announce that the Academy will be contributing $100,000 to the Disaster Relief Fund.

If you have already donated, my sincere thank you. I urge all members, while you are here at FNCE, to visit the Foundation’s Booth, in the Central Concourse, Level 3 and make a contribution.

I am extremely proud that despite the destruction to their home island, more than 45 students from Puerto Rico are attending FNCE this year. In fact, the University of Puerto Rico is one of the four winners of this year’s Student Spirit Contest, recognizing education programs that bring the highest percentage of their students to FNCE. They join Purdue University, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady and Gateway Community College as this year’s contest winners.

Please join me in welcoming all students and their instructors, especially those from disaster stricken areas in Florida, Mississippi, Texas, California and Puerto Rico! Thank you for being here with us!

We have the most students ever at this year’s FNCE, more than 2,400. They are our future!

Speaking of our future, throughout the Academy, we are planning and creating growth that will continue to expand our profession.

The Boards of the Academy and the Foundation, affiliates, DPGs, MIGs, committees, task forces, individual members and the Academy’s Headquarters Team: all working closely together.

As the Academy celebrates our Centennial, we will do so under the direction of a new Academy Strategic Plan. Thousands of Academy members gave us feedback.

Your Board of Directors is grateful and proud of all the work that has gone into the new Strategic Plan. This plan includes a new Vision for the Academy: “A world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.” And our plan includes a new Mission for our organization: “Accelerate improvements in global health and well-being through food and nutrition.”

And we have adopted five Principles that the entire Academy and our members live by.

Your Board of Directors is grateful and proud of all the work that has gone into the new Strategic Plan. This is an exciting time for our organization and our profession. I encourage you to visit the website and get familiar with our new guiding principles and goals.

The Academy, with Avalere Health and Abbott Nutrition, has launched the Malnutrition Quality Improvement Initiative – or MQii – to address malnutrition quality of care for hospitalized older adults. We continue to lead in treating malnutrition and have developed important tools and resources that an interdisciplinary team can use to address malnutrition care gaps. Within the last four years, 56 unique facilities across 23 hospital systems have efficiently and effectively implemented the MQii tools and resources providing optimal nutrition care.

I am proud to share their stories right now.


The decision to run for President of the Academy two years ago did not come easily to me. I can assure you that I prayed about it and consulted a lot of people before I threw my name in the hat. I will never forget Sonja Connor calling me and saying, “The good news is that you have been selected to be on the ballot for President-elect. The bad news is that you might get elected!”

I will also never forget asking my school district superintendent, Mr. Rudy Falana, for permission to run for President-elect and he asked me what my chances were of getting elected? I told him it was a long shot, that there had never been a School Nutrition Director to be elected President of the Academy. Fast-forward two years and I could have never asked for a more supportive boss to allow me to do all the great work you get to do as President of this Academy. Your support has been incredible.

When people ask me how I work full time and do this volunteer job, I have a quick answer for them: I have the most amazing School Nutrition staff in the country. Delia Peel, Daphne Callison, Charlotte Edmonds and Kara LeClair, you guys are the best. How can I thank you all enough for allowing me to share all the great work we do in the Burke County School Nutrition Program with the country? You have worked your hearts out to allow me to do this and the School Nutrition Program has not skipped a beat. You are the wind beneath my wings.

There are too many Academy members to thank, but I would be remiss if I did not mention one person – and that is Dayle Hayes. Dayle has been my biggest supporter since I ran for Treasurer six years ago and she continues to support me as President every single day. Dayle Hayes, you rock!

This year has been a hard year for me personally. In April, I lost my father Bill Schleicher to frontal temporal dementia at the age of 87, and last November my mother Liz Schleicher had a massive stroke after successful open-heart surgery. My mother has been my inspiration over the years, she sacrificed so much to send me to college and taught me what it is like to put others before yourself.

I am the first college graduate in my family. My mother was always so proud of what I have accomplished and so wanted to be here today. I share with her every week when I go to visit her, what all I have been doing and show her pictures of my travels. I love you Mom!

I have two extra-special best friends, Dusty and David Avery, who came all the way to Chicago to be here since my parents could not be here. You guys are the best. My sister Linda, who loves to travel with me, is one of my biggest cheerleaders, and she has had a blast getting to know all the great Academy members over the last few years.

I have two married children who have sacrificed family and babysitting time for me to do this job. They have witnessed my passion for the profession, and told me to run for president and have never complained when I was away. My daughter Britt Trulock does work for three practice groups, and she loves when she is on a call with them and they start talking about me and they don’t realize she is my daughter. Take note, you never know who will be listening when you talk about someone, so make sure it is all good stuff. She knew what all the Academy does, so she was really on board when I asked her if I could run.

My son Preston said something powerful to me one day. He said, “Mom, you get to do something that makes a difference in the world every day in your job. I don’t want to look back when I retire and feel like I didn’t do something that made a difference in my life.” Based on that statement he started doing pro-bono attorney work, so he now feels like he makes a difference. Britt and Preston, both of you and your spouses make me very proud.

My daughter has two children with my son-in-law Ross, my grandson Hix who is almost 5 and my granddaughter Kennedy who is 21 months old. My son and his wife Sarah just had a baby boy named Wynn who is 2 months old. Being called Grandy is the best job I have ever had.

Last but not least, I need to thank my husband Stan. He was the first person I asked if I could run for President-elect of the Academy and he totally surprised me with his answer. He said, “Donna, run for the job with all your heart and all your soul and your family will support you every step of the way. We will make it work if you get elected.” So now Stan has become this great cook since I am not there to cook every night.

His specialty is veal scaloppini. He might even share his recipes with you if you ask him. He loves to tell me when I get home how great he has eaten while I was away. Stan: Thank you, thank you, you have really been there for me and rarely complained when I said I had to leave on “another trip.”

Everyone needs support and we Academy members are no different.

The Academy’s Headquarters Team, headed up by our CEO and Academy Honorary Member, Pat Babjak, are incredible and are with us every step of the way. I assure you, we are in excellent hands. Teamwork makes the dream work. Thank you to every staff member for your dedication and support.

Impact Bracelet In closing, I believe strongly that, with everything, faith in yourself is absolutely key – a trait that every leader must continuously embody. I feel blessed to have such a support network through this exciting, yet challenging time of my life. When I look down at this beautiful bracelet, given to me by our Board member Hope Barkoukis, I am reminded of its meaning, which I think can be molded into everyone’s life.

This bracelet has two charms. One charm is filled with the world’s tiniest seeds – mustard seeds, which represent my faith in each and every situation.

The story of the mustard seed comes from the Bible, from the Book of Matthew. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

And so as it goes, even the tiniest bit of faith, in any situation or placed in any human being, has potential to grow far beyond belief.

Another charm says “impact” and every morning I ask myself, “How will I impact the world today?”

Like a pebble in a pond, Academy members are transforming the world, one person at a time. And just like our founders did over 100 years ago, our ripple effect will carry over a great distance. If they could see us now, they would be so proud.

Our next 100 years starts today, right here and right now.

I know that, like the mustard seed, our Academy and profession will grow into a forest of trees and we will have a global impact.

It’s our turn to leave a legacy for the future.

I am thrilled and grateful to be on this journey with each and every one of you – the true Dream Team.

Thank you very much!