How did you get into the field of nutrition?
Early on, I started off in public health, and soon realized that I was drawn to diet and diet quality and the immense impact nutrition has on disease. I worked for fifteen years in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Tanzania, Kenya and Bangladesh studying malnutrition in children and the diets of pregnant and lactating women to see how their nutritional status impacted the nutritional status of their children. Then, I worked in the United States Senate for two years looking at the Older American’s Act, the Farm Bill and the Affordable Care Act to see how this legislation was related to health promotion and chronic disease prevention. This experience helped me better understand the relationship of the influence research has on policy and the impact on the agencies that implement policy.
What drew you to the University of Massachusetts?
I came to the University of Massachusetts for two main reasons: I’m interested in examining and building upon my work on diet and diet quality and investigating chronic disease during periods of physiological and psychological transitions like what happens during menopause. There is some really great research happening here at the University. Also, I received an Andrew T. Mellon Mutual Mentoring Grant with the kinesiology department to look at how diet and physical activity interact on chronic disease prevention and progress, the grant has really helped get the research during the menopause transition off the ground and we're now collecting pilot data for several large federal grants. The nutrition department has a real focus on practicality and applied research—that is very appealing to me.
What does it mean to you to be teaching in the Commonwealth Honors College?
I am excited to be teaching in the honors college. It seems that there is a real thoughtfulness about why Honors College students want to be here and there is a diversity of experiences. I come from a very diverse background and making a contribution to fostering experiential learning in students is appealing to me. There is a natural curiosity that students bring to the classroom, and I want to foster that curiosity and learning while pairing it with information and course material.
What do you intend to do here on campus?
In the short term, I want to look at measures of diet, physical activity, and prevention of diabetes and heart disease. I want to be a resource for folks who want to look at diet quality in relation to their own outcomes. I also want to be a resource for understanding how research influences policies, whether it is state or federal policy, and share how to make minor modifications in your own research so it could have a broader impact to inform public policy.
Why do you think it is important for the students to learn the material you teach?
I teach an Honors-level general nutrition course. This course includes some biochemistry, some nutrient based material, some food based material, and different ways of looking at nutrition and public health. A lot of people in this type of class are interested in looking at themselves and their nutrition and diet. The class gets people to start thinking about questions like, “What if you don’t have access to those foods?” It is important to think about food systems in a greater context.