UTK Trainee Spotlight: Candace Sapp

Hi everyone, my name is Candace Sapp and I am the newest MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainee for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I am so excited to be a part of a team and network that are passionate about advocating for optimal health and quality of life for women, children, and families.

I am a first year doctoral student in the Nutrition Sciences department with a concentration in Community Nutrition. In addition to being a MCH trainee, I serve as a graduate assistant for the College of Education, Health & Human Sciences Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion where I work with the DEI Director to promote social justice for all members of the college community and specifically strive to increase recruitment and retention of students from historically underrepresented groups. My research interests lie at the intersection of implementation science and health disparities. I am interested in understanding the process and socio-ecological barriers to implementation and behavior change for currently existing childhood obesity interventions in minoritized populations. I am also interested in identifying factors associated with successful interventions. I hope that the best practices identified will lead to future innovation in program design and practice.

I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Food Science from Clemson University and my Master’s of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetic Internship from the University of Memphis. I have worked as a Registered Dietitian for over three years in community, school, and clinical settings. I look forward to gaining deeper leadership, theoretical, and research skills to combine with my practical experience and become an independent applied researcher.

I am eager to collaborate with fellow trainees and program leaders on different projects related to maternal and child health. Watching the planning process and execution of the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium 3.0 was a great learning experience. Listening and interacting with different speakers from various specialties share their passion about breastfeeding was invigorating and reminded me of the power of collaboration. I look forward to the next colloquium in the spring and other opportunities to champion health concerns especially for diverse communities. I appreciate the MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainee program because it seeks to not only develop knowledgeable practitioners and researchers but brave and compassionate leaders. I feel confident that I and other trainees will leave this program prepared to support and lead initiatives to dismantle health disparities related to nutrition.

In the spirit of learning and advocacy, I also look forward to spotlighting Indigenous practitioners and researchers who are doing important work in the fields of public health and nutrition as November is National Native American and Indigenous People Heritage Month. Tune in to the UT MCH Twitter page @UTmchnutrition to learn about the work being done by Indigenous people and how we all can support.

Candace Sapp, MS, RDN, LDN

Virtual Learning in the Face of Covid-19

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m living in a 1980’s sci-fi movie. The majority of my social interactions take place virtually and when I leave my home people are aloof and hidden behind face masks. Times are certainly uncertain. While some are thriving under the new conditions, others are just trying to keep up. I, for one, have found it difficult to give my full attention to course work while also parenting a three-year-old.

Though it is not the norm, my situation is not unique. Many faculty members and students are caring for children while simultaneously tending to course work and professional responsibilities. As maternal and child health professionals, I think it is critical to recognize what is being asked of families right now. Many parents are working 40-hour jobs from home while also caring for their children full time. If children are school age, parents are also expected to facilitate their children’s education. Parents working in essential service jobs outside of the home are tasked with finding safe and reliable childcare, while childcare centers and schools are closed. This is an especially trying time for many populations, especially working families with young children. While continuing on our academic journeys, it is important to keep these scenarios in mind.

Although it has taken time and patience for faculty and students to find their groove while learning, working teaching and maybe even parenting from home, most of us are growing accustomed to the virtual setting. It has been truly inspiring to see the many ways universities are working to ensure we are successful in these uncertain times. Some students report struggling with motivation and productivity, while others find relief from social stressors and more time to focus on studies. Many students are finding solace in focusing their energy on helping those in need, by sewing masks or volunteering to distribute food with various programs across the country. Others have worked quickly to begin research, with hopes of understanding the virus and its impact on the public. University of Tennessee professor, Dr. Sarah Colby, has collected more than 8,000 responses to a survey on nutrition and health behaviors during the pandemic. Further, she has collaborated with others to build a team to reach out to respondents in need.

Similar to coursework, many conferences and seminars have also moved to virtual platforms. Though these changes may have some limitations, it seems that these learning opportunities are more accessible than ever. The University of Tennessee MCH Nutrition trainees, as well as current and former MCH trainees from across the country, recently took part in the Making Lifelong Connections Conference from the comforts of home. The virtual conference focused on improving professional use of social media and virtual platforms. The conference increased participation and interaction by inviting attendees to share pictures illustrating their own social distancing experiences.

Whether you’re thriving or struggling to get through the day, we’re all in this together. If you’re feeling confident, reach out to friends and collogues that might not be. If you’re thriving, take note of the changes that have contributed to your success and advocate for those options to remain when social distancing recommendations ease. If you’re having a hard time, know there are recourses to support you. Please, don’t be afraid to talk about the challenges you’re experiencing. It’s likely that you’re not the only one struggling and the more awareness that can be raised around the hardships, the more can be don’t to reduce them in the future.

By: Emily Wojtowicz, MS, RD, CSP, LD, IBCLC




Advancing Anti-Hunger Legislation in Minnesota

On Thursday, February 27th, the non-profit Hunger Solutions organized their annual Hunger Day on the Hill where MCH Trainees, Marianna Colucci and Somadee Cheam had the opportunity to participate in advocacy at the Capitol in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Attending this event was a great opportunity to learn about hunger-fighting efforts, and provided a chance for the trainees to speak with districts’ legislators about important nutrition related issues in order to motivate decision makers to take supportive action on hunger policy issues. Issues on the legislative agenda included, eliminating school lunch shaming, continued funding for mobile food shelves, promotion of hunger free campuses, and building a new food shelf in Saint Paul. With a White House Administration that has been persistent in proposals to cut benefits and instill fear, state-level legislation is more important than ever in order to protect children, students and low-income individuals. Follow this link for more information on the bills the trainees asked our legislators to support!

Arizona State University TRANSCEND Program March Updates

The Arizona State University Maternal and Child Health Trainees have had several wonderful experiences this academic year. However, one of the most notable highlights of our traineeship experience thus far was the opportunity to participate in the Arizona Leadership Education in Neurodevelopment (LEND) leadership intensive workshop. This workshop was hosted by two amazingly knowledgeable and exuberant leadership consultants- Dr. Claudia Fernandez and Dr. Angela Rosenburg. This experience provided us trainees extremely relevant and evidence-based training in several areas of leadership, while addressing each maternal and child health competency. We discussed important topics such as communication, conflict resolution, mentoring, interviewing, and much more with other future and current MCH leaders. Additionally, this opportunity trained us and gave us the tools we need to host difficult conversations, maintain professional relationships, and understand how to work effectively in a team- something especially important when addressing maternal and child health topics and issues. From this workshop, we also had the opportunity to learn about our own unique styles of conflict resolution, attitudes towards change, leadership, and overall communication. Further, we discussed ways we can bridge differences in our styles when working together. It was quite mind-opening to see the variety of styles among our peers, and also to be able to understand their styles. For example, some MCH trainees had conflict resolution styles that were primarily “avoiding”, whereas others had “compromising” styles of conflict. By learning about our own styles of conflict, and the styles of each other, we were able to come together and understand how we can work together to more effectively overcome conflict, but also understand that sometimes, conflict may not always be necessary. 

After attending this seminar, we have a greater awareness for how to create and contribute to a productive work environment, talk about difficult issues, work with others whose communication styles differ from our own, and deal with conflicts in a constructive manner. This was an opportunity that we were all so grateful to be a part of, and if ever the opportunity permits for other MCH trainees to attend a seminar for leadership training, we believe it would be a very valuable experience. If anyone is interested in learning more about leadership, some informative reads are “It-Factor Leadership” written by LEND host Claudia Fernadez, and her husband Ruben Fernandez (find on amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Factor-Leadership-Dr-Claudia-Fernandez/dp/0989396606). Additionally, “Dare to Lead” by Brene Bailey is a favorite of the 2019-2020 ASU MCH Trainees and it also comes with a read-along workbook (find it here: https://daretolead.brenebrown.com/). Enjoy!

Aside from our experiences with LEND, we are also excited to share about upcoming experiences that two of our trainees, Madison and Erinn, will be able to participate in. Madison and Erinn were recently accepted to present their research at the Nutrition 2020 conference in Seattle in June. Madison will be presenting on the effects of romantic relationships on dietary habits in college freshmen, while Erinn will be presenting her findings on discrepancies between parents’ and adolescents’ perceptions of family meal habits. They are both very excited to share their research, as well as to see what others have to say!

Arizona State University: Maternal and Child Health Grantee’s Meeting

2020 MCH Grantee’s at Capitol Hill

This past week, the Arizona State University TRANSCEND group attended the Maternal and Child Health Grantee’s meeting in Washington D.C. We were excited to network with our fellow grantees from the seven other programs in the MCH Training network and learned a lot while we were there! 

One of our favorite parts of the two-day conference was the public policy training with Dr. Lindsay Hayes-Maslow. Our day started early and we were led by Dr. Hayes-Maslow on the very busy subway system (an experience of its own!) to Capitol Hill. 

That morning began with a very helpful overview of how laws are passed from Dr. Shelia Fleischacker from Georgetown University. Next, we heard from Cailtin Van Sant, a senior policy advisor for Representative Butterfield, where she provided an insight into her day-to-day routine in her position. She also explained to us the relationship between research and policy, and how these both have an influence on one another. Lastly, Sarah Reinhardt presented on the role that non-profit organizations play in the legislative process. She also provided an insight to how the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are written collaboratively. We then received training on how to communicate with congressional staff for our visits scheduled later that day. 

One group visited Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s office and provided education regarding barriers to breastfeeding for women in Arizona. Another group visited Representative Paul Gosar’s office, where they discussed the role of school lunches in rural settings and the importance of ensuring that children are given enough time to eat at lunchtime.

Overall, we left Capitol Hill feeling motivated and recharged.  It was a great way to start off 2020 and the Spring semester with a bigger picture of MCH in mind!

UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Alexandra Alford

Alex Alford

Alexandra Alford is a registered and licensed dietitian in Atlanta, GA. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Human Ecology with a concentration in Dietetics at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) in Princess Anne, MD. Alexandra then attended the University of Tennessee (UT) in Knoxville, TN to earn her Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition and her Master of Public Health in Community Health Education. In addition, she completed her dietetic internship at UT. While at UT, Alexandra was also a Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Nutrition Leadership Trainee, where she developed several leadership and planning skills that have helped her career blossom.

After graduating from UT, Alexandra worked at the UT Extension office in Wilson County, TN. While at UT Extension, Alexandra focused on the Farmers’ Market Fresh program in Wilson County, TN. This program was delivered at farmers’ markets that accepted payment from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and it was intended to help those with limited resources eat more local fruits and vegetables through education and access. Alexandra marketed the program to residents in the county, and led the implementation at a local farmers’ market in Lebanon, TN.

After her position with UT Extension, she worked full time for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Washington, DC. During Alexandra’s time with the USDA, she primarily supported the leadership of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). EFNEP is a national nutrition education program in the United States that targets low-income populations aiming to reduce nutrition insecurity of low-income families and youth. Alexandra worked with stakeholders across the nation and its territories to help improve the lives of those in the MCH population from a national perspective. There, she helped create and update policies that impacted the growth and reach of EFNEP. Alexandra also played an important role in reviewing and approving the planning and progress of EFNEP, ensuring each individual program was following federal guidelines and policies.

She then moved to Atlanta to work for Open Hand Atlanta, which is a non-profit organization that aims to cook, deliver, teach, and care. Alexandra currently provides nutrition education and counseling to a wide variety of individuals. At Open Hand, she provides monthly nutrition education in group settings and medical nutrition therapy to those living with HIV/AIDS and other health conditions.  She continues to help those with limited resources by linking her clients in need to the medically tailored meals that are created and delivered by Open Hand.

Since graduating and completing her time as an MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainee, Alexandra has remained working with the MCH population, helping those that need it most. She plans to continue these efforts throughout her career, forever thankful for the training and leadership provided by UMES, UT, and especially, the UT MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education, and Training Program.