Kate McDevitt Sees Schools as Public Health Frontiers

November 26, 2013

Classrooms are versatile spaces. In small desks flanked by bulletin boards, students build academic knowledge, make friends, and develop a sense of citizenship. But schools can do even more than that. Kate McDevitt knows classrooms are also ideal places for teaching young people how to be healthy.

Kate spent most of her childhood in Annapolis, MD, where her father, an orthopedic surgeon at the United States Naval Academy, taught her early on to value health and physical activity. After earning a degree in Human Service Systems from Bucknell University, Kate took a position in Washington, D.C., as a global events coordinator for Chief Executives Organization. As part of her job planning international networking events for a membership of CEOs, Kate worked with some of the world's most accomplished chefs and developed a great appreciation for the culinary movement.

Kate then moved to San Diego, where she served as the assistant director of United Through Reading Military Program. She also served on the Board of Directors of Slow Food Urban San Diego for four years, helping to promote local food systems. It was through her work with Slow Food that she realized her professional interest in advocating for farmers and better understanding local food production. Kate went back to school, earning a certificate in ecological horticulture from UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

Returning to San Diego, Kate settled into her current job as at UC San Diego, School of Medicine, which combined her unique interests in promoting education, health, and local food systems at schools in underserved communities. In this role, Kate brings the UCSD Pediatrics School Wellness Programs to classrooms across the county - and in Spring 2013 became the Principal Recipient of the UC San Diego Exemplary Employee of the Year. Kate speaks reverently of the public educators in her network: "Our teachers really embrace their role in changing and bettering their students. Their commitment to their students' health is incredible." She also recognizes the unique role schools can play as safe community spaces: "Families and community members understand schools to be places where anything is possible. Issues that could sometimes be hard are easier when they are discussed in schools."

While undertaking this work, Kate has been a valued partner in the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative. In addition to participating in the Schools & After-School Domain, Kate has been instrumental in formalizing the District Representatives- a group made up of public health and non-profit professionals, parents, and others who serve as liaisons between the COI and school districts' wellness committees - and getting its members the training they need to make a positive impact on schools' student wellness policies. She also participates on the Farm to School Taskforce and recently encouraged the group to adopt a common San Diego County Harvest of the Month calendar, which will allow local farmers to predict and plant the fruits and vegetables that San Diego County schools will demand in 2014. Of the Schools & After-School Domain, Kate said she participates because it is "one of the best collaborations for connecting the dots amongst school efforts countywide."

When she's not at work, Kate is "a cooking fanatic and a sucker for the San Diego restaurant scene." She admits, "I don't like to cook anything twice." She was recently invited to serve on the Board of Directors of Les Dames D'Escoffier, a worldwide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food and hospitality. When asked to recall a favorite meal, she described a memorable trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where she had the opportunity to "meet local chefs, develop an appreciation for the rich history of food in Mexico, and try some incredible mole."

Kate knows better than most people the potential impact of a meaningful culinary experience and has committed her career to building the next generation of thoughtful eaters and healthy adults.

Kate McDevitt is Senior Manager of School Wellness Programs at UCSD Pediatrics, Division of Child Development and Community Health and a voluntary partner on the COI Schools & After-School Domain, District Representatives group, and San Diego County Farm to School Taskforce.

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