Due to the length, this interview has been significantly shortened for readability. OHEA highly recommends members listen to the audio file which goes in-depth with Peggy O’Neil. The audio file can be found at the bottom of this interview.
Who are you?
My name is Peggy O’Neil, and I am a Professional Home Economist (P.H.Ec.), Ontario Home Economics Association (OHEA) member, and International Home Economics Association (IFHE) member. I have a doctorate in education and am currently a professor.
The roles I’ve previously held were in patient food services in high-risk food service facilities. I did that for about 20 years and left nutrition and foods to go to the corporate world of healthcare.
In the corporate world, I did education, student affairs, corporate communications and professional education with the practice leaders. It was a nice extension of nutrition because there is so much education in nutrition whether that is for staff or patient population. Through healthcare restructuring, I fell into corporate communications and media relations. I did print, radio, television and much more as the spokesperson for the hospital relating to health and education.
Along the way, I was invited to teach at Brescia University College when they created the graduate program for the nutrition and internship stream. In January, I’ve been teaching for 10 years at the graduate level but in leadership and management. This opportunity also extended to the undergraduate level where I teach communications, leadership and management combined.
Recently, to my great pleasure, I have been teaching courses in human ecology. I teach issues in housing, design for human needs and I have taught research methods. My love is developing and bringing a new level of introduction in academic rigour for the human ecology courses. My research interests are two-fold and focus on how women make and spend money.
I’ve also incorporated a Canadian company. It is an arts and entertainment company which focuses on developing programs that profile the nexus of art, human ecology and economics. In other words – profiling people pursuing their best life through home economics.
I also sit on the editorial board for the International Journal of Home Economics. My three personal goals are to:
Tell us something interesting about yourself?
I don’t have any hidden talents. What I love is what I do daily. A fun thing is I’ve been to Ireland three times, and it is heaven on earth to me. It’s my other home. This summer, I had a chance to go to Ireland and take a cooking class. I was on their organic farm and got to meet one of the co-founders. I got my picture taken with Rory O’Connell, cookbook author and tv network star.
There is an internationally renowned cooking school in Ireland called Ballymaloe. I want to go over there next year or the year afterwards and take a three-month course to get my culinary designation. After that, I want to develop my writing ability and join the food writer’s guild.
How long have you been an OHEA member and why did you decide to join?
I’m a fairly recent member of two years. I had many other professional memberships because of my diverse background. When looking at my roles, I wanted to integrate it to become more focused and purposeful.
I loved all the affiliations and work I’d been a part of. I wanted an association that was able to encompass all of the things I wanted to do. I also wanted one that would allow me to join a like-minded group of ambitious and purposeful people who are working systematically to achieve the same ends as myself.
When I looked at the act of which governs the association and seeing its primary focus, I thought this is my association. I love, support and wish long-term success to all my previous associations, but this is my primary association now. I’m thrilled to have done it and think the opportunities are endless.
I love being part of a population of people who are so diverse. Some people work in policy, as cookbook authors, media relations, health services and entrepreneurs. There is such a broad range of people working towards the betterment of society through the home and the individual. That is where my heart lies. OHEA collected everything for me.
How do you feel that being an OHEA member and a P.H.Ec has benefited you thus far?
Being a P.H.Ec. and an OHEA member has allowed me to collect my thoughts. As an academic and when you are in the research world where everything is theory, there is an almost unlimited range of possibilities, and you can become scattered. Your focus and your force and achievement can scatter.
Through the incredible members, I have never been so inspired. It has allowed me to see my dreams are very possible. There are people I can talk to that have already done it that can help me, and we can work together. So the collegiality, comradery and affinity I experience from being an OHEA member, to know globally we are all crusading towards something better. Starting locally and impacting globally, I feel so fulfilled by that.
The P.H.Ec. designation itself has given me professional legitimacy in the world I want to do in my corporation. Out in the world, people want to know “what can you do?” The designation is something people understand. It has helped with public legitimacy and is important when pitching to sponsors and the public.
I am a newer member and have happily been a part of two 4H Ontario projects. One was working on fruit and vegetables and the other focused on healthy eating. I was involved with 4H growing up and it was really important to me. To come home again and through the P.H.Ec. and the association is really rewarding.
I hope in the future I will be able to help the group as much as they have helped me.
Where do you see the profession going in the next five to 10 years?
I see the profession going beyond just advocacy. It’s two things I mentioned earlier. One is people understanding that home economics is synonymous with democracy and what all of that means. The second thing is increasing the profile of the profession through stated designations in public works like television shows and cookbooks. We all know Homegrown and it is a fantastic resource the association has wonderfully profiled.
I really see hope and envision that with education programs and graduates in home economics, it expands its great work into the private practice. People in their home are going to wealth advisors or debt advisors. Cleaning companies come into the home to teach people how to organize. There is no aggregate representative that can look at the portfolio of themes and objectives of an individual. It is done in unevaluated and uncoordinated way.
While I don’t think the P.H.Ec. would do that work specifically, but that they would work with the specialists in those areas. A P.H.Ec. could come in and say across the continuum here is the current state, goals and objectives, and help people that way. In this role, they would truly be an economic consultant. P.H.Ec. can be the economic advisor across the continuum of food, clothing, shelter and personal finance. They can bring their wealth of network and partners who you can strategically partner with those you trust. The relationship with the P.H.Ec. would be on a longer-term basis when needed.
I also see more policy and advising type of roles. There are some now, but I would see that in an expanded way. The third way is certainly if we expand and achieve the public education and education goals, higher education needs to prepare the workforce to deliver the education. So I see education opportunities.
What advice do you have for new, or aspiring PHECs?
Use your network. It is not just a professional designation where you get the newsletters and go to the conference. More than almost any other association I’ve seen, not just students but new members, there is incredible access to people. As the profession is so diversified, find your niche the thing you love and want to do, and find the subgroup within the profession that can help you.
For student members, retain your membership once you are no longer a student.
Note: During the interview, an unnamed member who works for Canada Beef is mentioned. This member is Michelle McAdoo, P.H.Ec., and Peggy would like to acknowledge her hard work.