Kuhl reflects on 32 years of work with UConn Dining Services

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John Kuhl, now-retired area manager of Buckley Dining hall. Photo provided by author.

John Kuhl, now-retired area manager of Buckley dining hall, spoke about his experiences with dining services since he began working for the University of Connecticut in 1989. 

Kuhl said lots of UConn’s culture has changed over the course of his time there. He spoke about changes in the structure of the semester and events that took place. 

“We’ve seen a lot over the years,” Kuhl said. “Academics have changed, they used to bring kids back on campus before classes started in the fall for a huge WoW (Week of Welcome) picnic … One year, I was responsible for doing the food part, but I would work with student activities, and they would plan the bands and work with me on the theme.” 

Kuhl went on to discuss his development of the student management program. He said he felt the program was a great way for students to develop managerial skills for the future. 

“Each dining hall then did an interview process and would then hire student managers,” Kuhl said. “They took over the role of, like, hiring, doing all the paperwork for student payroll, doing the payroll, and then overseeing supervisors, so it was such a great experience for these kids, and that’s probably the best part that I love about my job is working with students and seeing them grow.” 

Kuhl also spoke about the managerial training program he helped establish. He said the program gives people the opportunity to work in various diverse dining environments. 

“Another thing UConn did was a lot of our current managers went through something we had… called ‘the management trainee’ program, so we would bring candidates here, and for two years … one semester, they might work at a large dining hall like North Campus, because at that time, we didn’t have South yet. Or they would be assigned to meet maybe at Shippee and Buckley in the small units,” Kuhl said. 

Kuhl said he was involved with the UConnects program for close to 20 years as a way of helping students on academic probation. He said the main way he helped students was by teaching them time management skills. 

“Another program that I was involved with for close to 20 years was the UConnects program, so each semester, I would get a student that would be in academic probation and meet either weekly or biweekly with them because they were on probation,” Kuhl said. “A lot of them, it was mainly teaching them time management skills… They just [needed] to learn some skills on how to maneuver around the campus.” 

Kuhl said his week of saying goodbye to other staff members was emotional. He said when one gets to know their coworkers for that long, they become a type of family. 

“It was an emotional week saying goodbye,” Kuhl said. “When you come to work, you know, 35, 40 hours a week, these [people] are your family. It’s your staff who you’re there every day talking to, learning about their lives, they know about yours.” 

Kuhl spoke about the compliments he has received from other workers. He said he’s typically not one to give compliments, so it helped quantify the impact he made. 

“There’s just so much … Hearing from them this past week and them saying to me, ‘you know, you were one of my best managers I’ve ever worked with,’ it’s like … I’m always one that likes to give the compliments, it’s hard to receive, so it’s just that part that hits you and [makes you] go, ‘wow, I guess I did make a difference.’” 

Kuhl said one of the strangest adjustments he will have to make is getting used to a non-college environment. He said he has been in a college environment for long enough that he has scheduled his time around it. 

“Since I started college in 1980, I’ve never been out of college because I got right into college food service right from when I graduated in ‘84,” Kuhl said. “I started in ‘84, and I never left the college atmosphere, so that’s going to be a shock for me because you live your life by semesters … You always lived your life by the academic calendar, so that’s probably going to be a shock for me.” 

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