UMN Trainee Spotlight: Jessica O’Connell

jessica o'connellJessica is a first-year MPH Nutrition student and dietetic intern in the coordinated master’s program at the University of Minnesota. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Science with an emphasis in Human Nutrition at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Jessica has been an MCH Nutrition Trainee since September 2018. As a trainee, she has worked on creating an Infant Feeding brief with ASPHN and the development the University of Minnesota’s Public Health Nutrition Newsletter. As a dietetic intern, Jessica has also had the opportunity to work directly with women and children from low-income and homeless families at Perspectives Inc, which she describes in this post. 

I was paired to intern with Perspectives Inc. in my first semester at the University of Minnesota. Perspectives is a human service agency that provides support to homeless and low-income families in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. My role with the organization included working with women and children in Perspectives’ commercial kitchen/dining classroom. The Kids Café program was designed to increase healthy food consumption by providing hands-on nutrition curriculum and addressing healthy food choices for children and their families. The kids are transported to Perspectives on the bus right after school. Each day, a group of kids help out in the café by preparing, serving and then eating a nutritious dinner with their peers. It’s wonderful to see the kids get excited to try new foods, whether it be parsnip fries or a black bean burger. They also become increasingly confident in the kitchen, as they practice basic cooking tasks like sautéing or chopping vegetables.

Perspectives also provides several opportunities where the mothers are invited to participate in cooking groups at the Café. Through these, they can learn how to cook new recipes or create their own recipes from the ingredients provided. Simply working alongside the mothers and having conversations with them was an integral part of providing equitable support to them through this program. This face-to-face time allowed me to create newsletter articles and other resources for them that were relevant to their needs and goals. I am passionate about reducing barriers to healthy eating, making it both simple and attainable for everyone. Because of this, I’m grateful to be part of an organization that increases access to healthy food and cooking knowledge to those who can benefit so highly.

UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Shanthi Appelö

ShanthiShanthi Appelö is an alumnus of the Maternal and Child Health Leadership traineeship. She completed both her Bachelor and Master of Science degrees at the University of Tennessee. Currently, she is a registered dietitian nutritionist working at the Knox County Health Department. In this blog post, Shanthi describes her experience as a former trainee, her current & upcoming projects, and recent recognition. 

It is the best feeling every time I counsel a patient and see them thrive and reach their goals. Even more exciting is knowing that I get to have an impact on a policy, system or environment to influence more than just an individual, but a population. This very concept is what drove me to want to pursue a career in public health. As a MCH nutrition trainee, I was exposed to Knoxville’s diverse population, health equity particularly facing the maternal and child population. The traineeship offered me the experiences and opportunities to explore how to start solving our community’s problems.

Fast forward to today, I am a registered dietitian nutritionist working at the Knox County Health Department. My job has a clinical and public health component as my day-to-day varies from providing clinical nutrition consultation in our Centers of Excellence for HIV and AIDS clients to planning, overseeing and providing training in public health prevention programming to support policy, systems and environmental interventions to childcare facilities. My position also has a media component, where I appear in the local news at times and write a monthly column for our local business journal, Knox.Biz. Other parts of my job include helping our very own staff to become healthy by creating and leading an evidence-based weight loss program.

The MCH traineeship taught me to seize every opportunity and provided me with training in maternal and child leadership to where I can influence population-wide outcomes. I have joined our Health Department’s quality improvement committee, serve on the local Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Board as legislative chair and served in leadership positions on the Tennessee Public Health Association Board. I was honored to receive the award for Knoxville’s Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year Award in 2019 for my diverse job experiences during school, for being eager to learn as I earned the certificate of training in adult obesity interventions, for joining many leadership roles in my work and beyond, and for making a difference in the community with a focus on health equity.

Coming up, my team is pursuing a Tennessee Department of Health’s (TDH) Project Diabetes grant focused on diabetes prevention. My highlights in the application will focus on diabetes prevention while addressing health equity in the maternal and child population. Another TDH grant fast approaching: I have applied for a grant that focuses on diabetes and cardiovascular disease outreach, resources and treatment.

Western Partners Trainee Spotlight: Alyssa Thomas

Alyssa is a second year MPH student in Nutrition/Dietetics at the Colorado School of Public Health and will begin a dietetic internship in the fall. She completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology at Stanford University and currently works in public health consulting. These experiences, along with that as a MCH nutrition trainee, have all informed her desire to reduce nutrition-related health disparities for underserved mothers and families.

As an MCH trainee this past year, I have had the great experience of supporting a technical assistance project aimed at advancing MCH nutrition initiatives for childhood obesity. This project began in fall of 2018 and works with four teams throughout the Western states. It aims to reduce disparities in obesity by focusing on populations disproportionately affected by the condition: low-income, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and rural women and children. On monthly community of practice calls, the teams discuss healthy eating and active living initiatives they are implementing that include individual, policy, systems, and environmental approaches. By participating in the calls and completing related modules on Systems Approaches for Healthy Communities from the University of Minnesota, I have gained valuable insight into working with communities on interdisciplinary teams to affect system and policy change. This insight will be invaluable in my future career as a public health dietitian.

As a future dietitian, I hope to work with mothers and families in a community setting, with the ultimate goal of helping to reduce disparities in nutritional health. Last month, I had to opportunity to improve skills relevant to this goal at the Western Maternal and Child Health Nutrition Leadership Network Conference. The second day of the conference featured a leadership workshop presented by Dr. Niki Steckler from Oregon Health Sciences University. The workshop included practice in articulating a vision, mapping networks of stakeholders, listening actively, and opening conversations powerfully. These communication and negotiation/conflict resolution skills will help me develop and strengthen coalitions and partnerships once I enter the field.

Recap of the Western Maternal and Child Health Nutrition Leadership Network Conference

The Western Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Nutrition Leadership Network (NLN) is an annual conference of public health and nutrition professionals among 13 western states. In February 2019, as part of our training, the trainees of Arizona State University, including myself, had the pleasure of attending the 11th NLN meeting in Redondo Beach, California. Over two days, we attended sessions including updates of federal programs such as SNAP, utilizing PSE (policy, system, environment) concepts in rural communities, a leadership workshop, and more. We also had several networking opportunities in which state leaders discussed accomplishments and challenges specific in their respective states. Five trainees (three from ASU) also had the opportunity to share their research work with conference members.

Marisa Gutierrez.JPG

Marisa Gutierrez is a first year Master’s student in Nutrition, dietetic intern, and MCH trainee with Arizona State University. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition from ASU in 2016, she worked in WIC for 2 years providing nutrition education to mothers and caregivers of infants and children. She has returned to ASU to complete her Master’s degree as well as a dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian and further serve the MCH population.

Throughout these sessions, we discussed topics such as understanding your journey map and ‘why’ for the work you do, building coalitions and partnerships, and how rural and tribal communities experience challenges that might not be experienced among urban communities. For me, discussing my ‘why’ for the work I do has helped to reaffirm my passion for both nutrition and maternal/child health. While we know our fellow trainees and coworkers have a shared goal in our current positions, this activity was the first time I had discussed this topic with my fellow trainees. Understanding unique perspectives will  help strengthen our team and identify unprecedented partnerships. I look forward to being able to continue these conversations and begin new ones with trainees from other states at our MCH Nutrition Grantee meeting later in March.

I highly encourage everyone to take a few minutes to ask yourself or someone you work with: what journey has brought you to where you are now? Why do you do the work you do? How might your passion shape your future?

 

For more information on the NLN conference, please visit http://www.mchnutritionpartners.ucla.edu/

UCLA Trainee Spotlight: Karen Meacham

Karen is a first year MPH student in Community Health Sciences at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. She received undergraduate degrees in Dietetics and Biology at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX, and will be completing her Dietetic Internship through a combined program with UCLA and the Greater Los Angeles VA.  She plans to focus on food insecurity and young child nutrition, especially in those with disabilities.

As an MCH trainee, I serve in a leadership role in our Public Health Nutrition Club. This club allows students from across the spectrum of public health to come together under a common interest of nutrition. One of our main activities is providing food demonstrations around campus. This past fall, we coordinated with the medical school to offer lunchtime demonstrations for their students. We prepared Kale Walnut Quinoa Salad with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette and Apple Chai Energy Balls, made with oats, almond butter, honey, and dried apples. The space we used allowed the attendees to follow along at their own stations as we prepared the recipes. At the end, they had created their own healthy lunch to go!

Our food demonstrations have the aim of promoting healthy eating among students using fresh, local, and seasonal produce. We show students how to use kitchen equipment while providing nutrition information about the foods being prepared. This activity empowers students with new culinary skills while encouraging them to make healthy choices for their meals and snacks. Many of our students face some level of food insecurity, so knowing how to cook simple healthy meals using local, seasonal produce can help them to stretch their food dollars while supporting their own health.