In my very first board meeting of Kappa Omicron Nu, I immediately took notice of Kitty Coffey. Kitty is a retired KON member. Once an interim chapter adviser, she is Professor Emerita for the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Carson-Newman University (Kappa Beta Xi chapter) in Jefferson City, TN. A slim, polished woman, Kitty is every inch a southern lady. Though she is petite, she can also command a room not with a loud voice or angry words, but with a friendly congenial candor that disarms and charms. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Kitty about her impressive history of service with Kappa Omicron Nu.
Q: How did you become involved in KON?
A: I have fond memories of being invited to join Omicron Nu (ON), one of the two predecessors of Kappa Omicron Nu, as a junior in 1963 at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). The initiation ceremony, with the top scholars in my college along with faculty members I held in particularly high regard, made a significant impression on me. I felt a new connection and a real pride in being a part of a scholarship in my chosen profession. After earning BS and MS degrees at UTK and being an instructor in higher education for a few years, I returned to UTK for my PhD – still a proud member of ON. Moving on to Carson-Newman, a liberal arts Christian college – now university – in rural East Tennessee, I was invited to join another scholastic honorary, Kappa Omicron Phi, in my chosen profession of home economics. To my delight, a few years later, my land-grant university’s ON scholastic honorary merged with my smaller liberal arts college KON scholastic honorary to create a new, larger, and more diverse Kappa Omicron Nu. So here I am involved in KON!
Q: What did you like about KON?
A: Over my time as a member of KON (and its predecessors ON and KOΦ), I’ve appreciated that whether affiliated with a big university or a small college, chapters were treated equally well. I loved so much that at KON conclaves and regional meetings, smaller chapter delegations were as active, well-received, and recognized as larger ones. As C-N department chair and KON member, I proudly pointed out to prospective majors, our Kappa Beta Xi “KON Wall of Honor” featuring our 26 Chapter of Excellence Awards won under the outstanding advisorship of Dr. Diana D. Dearing (1980-2014) and Dr. Amber Roth (2015-present). KON is for chapters of many sizes, locales, and originations.
Q: Can you tell me about your research/career?
A: I was a UTK Food Science and Nutrition major who, after doing an independent study research project, decided I liked bench research. I presented my research from the masters’ thesis entitled, The Effects of Cooking on the Phospholipid Content of Lean Ground Beef at the Institute of Food Technology meeting in Minneapolis the next year and co-authored a UT Extension Bulletin with my major professor, Dr. Ada Marie Campbell. After teaching at the University of Alabama, I joined the Nutrition Department at the University of Tennessee Medical Units in Memphis as an assistant professor in the Child Development Center (CDC), a grant-supported University-Affiliated Facility (UAF). The focus changed to food and nutrition as a part of an interdisciplinary team approach to teaching healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, psychologists, audiologists, speech therapists, nutritionists, and many others) in intellectual and developmental challenges in children. We evaluated and treated patients with inborn errors of metabolism, eating disorders, developmental feeding disorders, and more. It was at the CDC that I developed my research interest in childhood obesity and co-authored a book, Fun Foods for Fat People, while directing the CDC Childhood Obesity Clinic. As a member of the CDC Interdisciplinary Team Approach to Poverty community outreach research project, I co-authored our findings and recommendations to end the cycle of inner-city poverty.
Returning to UTK to work on a doctorate in socio-cultural food science, I turned a new interest in obesity into my dissertation topic, Food Behaviors of Adolescents Relative to Adiposity, directed by Dr. Ann Bass. I had the privilege of reporting my doctoral research at the annual meetings of the American Dietetic Association (now Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) and the Society for Nutrition Education. Regrettably, I did not complete the editorial review process for publication of this research in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association due to competing demands on time. My lesson learned, which I pass forward to new doctorates: Make publishing from your dissertation a career priority as it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to maximize and advance your research.
Q: How did KON help you?
A: KON helped me transition my scholarly efforts from bench and field research to perspectives in practice. This was a better fit for me as a professor, department chair, and later division coordinator and school dean in a small liberal arts college with emphasis on excellence in teaching. Through acquaintance with KON’s programs of work, I reframed my scholarship to leadership in quality faculty, programs, and facilities development in higher education. I was also privileged to report at several programs and in proceedings of the Council for Administrators of Family and Consumer Sciences (CAFCS) and the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS). Additionally, I co-authored numerous self-study reports for initial and reaccreditation for AAFCS and chaired C-N’s institutional self-study and site visit. I then co-authored a book with Dr. Ellen Millsaps, a former Writing Across the Curriculum Regional Workshop leader for KON in the 90’s entitled A Handbook to Guide Educational Institutions Through the Accreditation Process. Happily, I had an article published in Kappa Omicron Nu’s Forum entitled, “The place of family and consumer sciences in a small, private college.” A decade later, I was privileged to have my KON conclave address, “The Case for KON Leadership,” published in Kappa Omicron Nu Dialogue. More recently, I was honored to have my biography included among the 130 Leaders in Family Consumer Sciences, published by KON in 2016.
Q: What have you learned from KON?
A: I’ve learned the values of collaboration, leadership, and mentorship in the continuous quality improvement of scholarship. Particularly relevant to us, I think, is mentorship. For example, my department chair predecessor – Dr. Evelyn Simpson – who served as C-N’s first KOΦ chapter advisor, skillfully mentored her successor advisor, Dr. Diana D. Carroll. Diana served in that capacity until her retirement being twice named KON Outstanding Advisor and an elected Vice President on the Board of Directors. Following Diana’s retirement, I took a turn as the interim KON chapter advisor. With Diana’s consultation I mentored new faculty member, Dr. Amber Roth, to become C-N’s third KON chapter advisor in 50 years. Collaboration, Succession, and Continuity!
Q: What contributions can be made by members in retirement?
A: I’m almost into my second year of retirement. As department chair, I would directly encourage and mentor someone. Now, I can contribute by sharing my thoughts and insights with KON leadership as someone who has been with KON a long time and has seen the history of our programs and projects. This is one of the many perspectives needed as you move our organization forward. As we regenerate, I can offer some perspectives on what I have seen as valuable from the past that might help shape our future.
It’s so important for our alumni to be just as engaged as our students. We can encourage alumni members to sponsor today’s student scholars by mentoring them and helping them build their leadership skills and develop their own networks. It also wouldn’t hurt to always have an alumnus on the board. Recently retired might be ideal.
Q: In your opinion, what do you think KON needs?
A: Already, KON has enhanced its media, email outreach, and the blog. We’re at a very exciting point in transitioning from the past to the present. We’ve realized that our old paradigms, no matter how proud we were of them, are past. With excitement and vision, we’ve adapted. Now, we’re looking into the future. We’re strengthening our new programs in the human sciences in hospitality, kinesiology, and exercise science. There’s new blood in leadership and in association management, too. We need to provide our students today something to do. I’m excited to see people wanting to get onto committees and to contribute. There’s a great legacy that’s been created. KON has a VERY proud past and a VERY promising future.
Q: What are your hobbies/interests?
A: I collect cookbooks from every city I go to. They all have some history. When I was teaching, I didn’t have much time to practice, but now I use them. What’s Kitty’s favorite recipe right now? Exotic chicken salad from the Junior League Cookbook of Memphis. It uses diced rotisserie chicken, curry, grapes, and soy sauce and is a hit at potlucks. She thinks again and amends her answer: “Or banana pudding. I substitute the vanilla wafers with Famous Amos™ macadamia nut cookies. I just use the instant pudding box, but with the upgrades, you’d never know.