Humans of UWL: Steven Martens


Steven Martens. Photo taken by Henry Anderson.

Henry Anderson, Photojournalist

“Basically, I am the main guy on campus when it comes to food,” said Steven Martens. Martens is the Resident District Manager for Dining Services at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“I act as a liaison for the food service company (Chartwell),” said Martens. “I work for Chartwell, but I am in charge of this campus for dining programs. I work with the university to develop a program based on what the student’s wants and needs are.”

Being the district manager, Martens acts as the connection between the administration of the school and food service employees. He works to coordinate and give food service employees the proper tools necessary to create the program the administration is looking for.

However, Martens’ job is unique because he works at UWL. Martens said, “The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is big enough to have a resident district manager. It’s like being a district manager, meaning I manage numerous places in an area, but all I have to worry about is UWL.”

Working with catering events around campus is another part of Martens’ role.“We can have days where there are five to six events a day to 20 or 30 a day,” said Martens. He continued, “[Being a part of these events] is making sure we have everybody staffed, we’ve got all the food in, even keeping an eye on the weather to watch for when rushes come at places like Whitney.”

Beginning his journey to resident district manager, Martens first had to start out in the food business. Martens began working in the Whitney Center as a dishwasher when he was a student here. After working at a camp in Black River Falls in the summer of 1981, Martens said, “I went to UW-River Falls as a manager, and my career kind of just took off.”

Martens continued, “I graduated in ‘82 and the economy was slow and different, which made jobs hard to come by. All of the tumblers kind of fell into place and I have been in food service for the whole time.”

Martens worked at a couple of places, including Naperville, Illinois, before getting the offer to work back at UWL. “This opportunity came up in 2017 and I thought about how great that would be to come back to my alma mater, to serve the institution that taught me how to do what I do,” said Martens.

By having numerous years of experience in food service, Martens has been supplied with the necessary skills in order for him to become a district manager for food services. “Every position you learn how your foundation was built,” said Martens. “With learning every position, you can start to rebuild that foundation and expand on it.”

When asked what he likes about his job and what challenges come with it, Martens gave the same answer for both. Martens said, “No day is the same.” He continued, “Everyday economy affects what we do with things like dollars and budgets, enrollment, summer business.”

Martens said he feels a sense of self-satisfaction from his job in part because each day is different. “I take a look at what I have learned here as a student, and as a marketing and management major, and all of this opportunity that has been given to me,” said Martens. “Being involved in the evolution of a 40-year career, which I am very proud of, is exciting.”

Connecting with students is a large part of Martens’ job. “We are always looking at what we can do differently and what we can do better based on what we hear from students,” said Martens. “Students are great for feedback on what they like and what they don’t like.” Despite this, Martens feels that a barrier exists between students and him and his staff.

“I don’t know if it is the technology, but I wish students would take the time to talk with us about what they would like to see,” said Martens. “We do want to give them what they want, but they have to communicate that to us and we are always open to feedback.” Through student feedback, Martens and his staff can build a better food program for UWL students to enjoy.

“It is very satisfying that I can go home and say I have made a positive change either in making a student enjoy that meal or talking with that student and learning from them in the process,” said Martens.