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.

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.