What influenced you to pursue a degree in nutritional sciences?
I have been nudged towards nutritional sciences and dietetics in numerous ways but I started considering nutrition as a profession after continuously hearing the advice: “Do what you love!” And I love food. I knew I would always be excited about discovering new food science and listening to people share stories about important foods in their lives. After graduating from college with a degree in psychology and public health, I worked at a free medical clinic in North Carolina and designed and taught a class series for patients at the clinic with diabetes. I moved back to Seattle to serve as an AmeriCorps member at a Hunger Intervention Program and coordinated the Healthy HIP Packs Program, led the Summer Meals for Kids Program, and taught various nutrition education classes around Seattle.
I knew I wanted to pursue additional education to expand my knowledge of the social determinants of health, how to elevate existing community programs and partnerships working towards food sovereignty and become a more competent and confident nutrition professional.
Why did you choose UW?
University of Washington is one of the only schools that combines the MPH and dietetics training, which was important to me because I knew I wanted to situate my nutrition knowledge in the context of social determinants of health and the systemic forces that influence what food we have access to and consume on a daily basis. I was also drawn to the small cohort size, and the opportunity to learn from faculty who prioritize evidence-based nutrition information. UW’s program checked all of those boxes and then some. The small cohort has created such a supportive learning environment and has allowed me to get to know and learn from each of my classmates. I also wanted to develop skills to evaluate and interpret nutrition research to become a trusted source of nutrition information in this digital age.
What kind of research or internship are you doing?
I am working on a team led by Jennifer Otten and Emilee Quinn to examine the experiences and impacts of the Washington Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC) offices being closed to the public in response to the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order issued in March 2020.
After this closure, federal waivers have allowed WIC to transition to remote appointments via phone and load WIC food benefits onto an EBT card remotely. The Washington State WIC office also worked hard to expand the list of eligible WIC foods in stores by over 600 items to offset food shortages and challenges with shopping related to the pandemic. This research combines enrollment and participation data with staff focus groups and WIC participant interviews to gain multiple perspectives on the impacts, benefits, and challenges of these adaptations, and how to improve upon WIC services in the future.
How would you describe the benefits of your research or how it may potentially impact public health?
WIC is the third largest food and nutrition assistance program in the United States serving approximately 6 million women, infants, and children monthly prior to the pandemic, and 135,000 in Washington State from 2019-2020. Participation in WIC has been associated with improvements in infant and child health outcomes, nutrient consumption, cognitive development and access to healthcare. This research can help provide evidence for policy and programmatic changes to WIC that will remove various longstanding barriers to participation like arranging childcare, transportation, and time off from work to attend appointments. If some of these barriers are removed by providing a majority of WIC services remotely, the program can reach more eligible individuals and improve population health outcomes and food security. We have already presented summaries of our research to the National WIC Association and the USDA to help inform future policy changes to WIC at the national level and I co-presented this work again with WA WIC at the Washington State Public Health Association meeting in October 2021.
What are your future goals?
My future goals have already shifted after my first year in this program. After learning more about eating competence in Cristen Harris’ classes, I hope to work with parents and children on the division of responsibility during feeding that can help improve children’s experiences and relationships with food. I am also interested in working alongside pregnant individuals with gestational diabetes using eating competence principles to improve metabolic and emotional health outcomes. I could combine these interests while working for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) to improve health and wellbeing, increase access to food, and provide person-centered nutrition information for children, parents, and people who are pregnant. I hope to utilize my experience with WIC as both a researcher and potential practitioner to ensure policies and programs that can have population-level health and nutrition impacts are implemented effectively and sustainably.
What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?
In my spare time, I enjoy reading cookbooks cover to cover, riding the ferry boats to nearby islands, trying my best at trivia nights, and sampling all the bakeries in Seattle for the best pastries.
What do you like most about living in Seattle?
I am originally from Seattle, but I moved to North Carolina for college. I missed a lot of things about Seattle, especially the proximity to both mountains and water and the distinct and bustling neighborhoods. There are not a lot of places where you are at times only 25 minutes away from a gorgeous mountainous hike or a sandy beach. I also enjoy wandering closer to home in each unique neighborhood on foot and finding the best restaurants with friends and family.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself
I lived on a sailboat for a month last summer during the pandemic!
What advice would you give a student who is considering graduate study with the UW Nutritional Sciences program?
During my application process, I emailed the Nutritional Sciences Program office to connect me with a current student who had similar interests and career goals as I did. She was an invaluable resource to me as I was gathering information about the program at UW, opportunities she had pursued as a student, and the application process. I would recommend to prospective students to seek out student insight and opinions, whether it be reading student profiles on the website, attending an information session or interacting with a current student or alum.