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.

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Emily Wojtowicz

Emily is a 1st year student and trainee at the University of Tennessee, pursuing a PhD in Community Nutrition. 

Emily WojtowiczEmily received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Arizona. Then, she went on to complete a combined dietetic internship and Master of Science program at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio. Emily’s Master’s degree is in Community Nutrition with an emphasis on child and maternal health. After completing her dietetic internship, she worked with the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program as a high-risk dietitian, lactation consultant, and Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program (BFPC) coordinator. Her research interests include barriers to breastfeeding, infant feeding, and human lactation.

I’ve been interested in nutrition for as long as I can remember. During my under graduate years, it quickly became apparent that community nutrition, specifically related to the maternal and child population, was my passion. I worked as a nutritionist with the WIC program immediately following my undergraduate studies. Although I had already learned about breastfeeding in school, I didn’t fully grasp the importance until working for WIC. I was so excited to learn more about breastfeeding and human lactation that I completed breastfeeding counselor training during spring break from Case Western. Only days after graduating from CWRU, I started working as a WIC clinic supervisor and dietitian in Oregon, where the majority of my time was spent providing direct nutrition counseling for high risk women, infants and children. A year later I moved to Arizona to continue working with WIC as a high-risk dietitian. During that time I also interned with the lactation department at the University of Arizona Medical Center, spending approximately 500 hours learning one on one from experienced IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) while proving direct lactation care. In 2015 I became certified as an IBCLC my self.

Through all of this time working directly with the MCH population, it has become clear that breastfeeding parents are in need of more support and better care in order to be successful. Not only am I passionate about conducting research to determine and reduce barriers to breastfeeding. I am also determined to help improve policy pertaining to lactation training requirements for many health professions. I am confident that the MCH traineeship will help me to achieve these goals.

Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium 3.0: A Socio-Ecological Perspective – Healthful Food Access

Julianne Julianne is a first year Master’s student at University of Tennessee, Knoxville pursuing a degree in Public Health Nutrition. She hopes to work with medically underserved children and sustainable food systems. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from University of Dayton in Dietetics, Food and Nutrition. 

On Friday, September 27th, the University of Tennessee’s MCH Nutrition Leadership team along with the Department of Nutrition hosted the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium 3.0 (PHW3.0): A Socio-Ecological Perspective – Healthful Food Access. This was my first time being involved in the planning of this event and participating in the colloquium. As I reflect on this series, I am optimistic about the future because I witnessed the impassioned leadership the presenters brought to the colloquium. Each speaker connected the programs or organizations they work for to the Socio-Ecological Model (SEM) and explained how their program or organization uniquely addressed barriers individuals and communities have to obtaining healthful access to foods.

One of the themes that sparked my own passions and interest was food equity and conversation regarding the nutritional value foods being served to the most vulnerable populations in society, especially single mothers and their children. Listening to the presenters speak about how their organizations or programs have made an impact reminded me how vital it is for collaboration across the SEM and between different professions for a common goal: equitable and healthful food access for the most vulnerable. My interests in working towards food equity and justice for the most vulnerable were strengthened by seeing all of the positive leverage of programs and organizations like EFNEP, SNAP-ED, Shop Smart Tennessee, Fresh Pantry through Second Harvest, and Partnership for Healthier America. PHW3.0 has challenged me to continue thinking about my time as a new graduate student to keep evaluating and improving positive initiatives addressing barriers to healthful food access for vulnerable populations.

PHW Fall
Program Presentation Panelists at the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium on September 27, 2019.  Panelists represented the following programs: University of Tennessee Extension Program, Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee’s Fresh Pantry Mobile Program, and the Shop Smart Tennessee research intervention program.

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Sa’Nealdra Wiggins

Headshot19Sa’Nealdra is a 4th year doctoral student at the University of Tennessee pursuing a degree in Nutritional Sciences in hopes of impacting women and girls of color as it pertains to dietary quality. She currently holds a degree in Health Education-Public Health from Middle Tennessee State University.

 

 

 

This summer I completed a 7-week internship with a Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) as a part of our nutrition program requirements. PHA is a non-profit organization that was created by Michelle Obama to partner with the private sector while improving our nation’s food systems, in a larger effort to improve childhood obesity rates. As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded of how important it is as a future professional to embrace opportunities and to explore unfamiliar territory. I have always been comfortable embracing those familiar opportunities that are similar to what I aspire to do as a professional; however, I learned this summer that sometimes it is more beneficial to get your feet wet in other fields.

I interned with PHA’s Fruit and Vegetable campaign (initiative) which seeks to encourage the world to consume more fruits and vegetables: fresh, frozen, dried, or canned. Although I had no prior experience with non-profit organizations, I found this to be a fulfilling experience. It was different than the usual public health and community research I have been involved in. I was instead doing things such as assisting companies in improving the nutritional quality of their food products. I developed many new skills that I will continue to use throughout my career; however, my main takeaway was the reminder to always immerse myself in opportunities that are outside of my normal scope. This internship was definitely a highlight in my graduate career and I would encourage others to seek opportunities that are outside of their field!

Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium 3.0: A Socio-Ecological Perspective – Policy at All Levels

 

Dr. Shelnutt
Dr. Karla Shelnutt presenting her work for The University of Florida Extension’s Family Nutrition Program & Florida’s SNAP-Ed Program

The Promoting Healthy Weight (PHW) Colloquia are a biannual series, held each spring and fall, that highlights the latest research in maternal and child health nutrition. The Colloquia are for practitioners, health agency employees, students, faculty, researchers, families, and the community. Viewers can attend the event onsite or view the live or archived webcast remotely.

On Friday, March 29, 2019, The University of Tennessee’s MCH Nutrition Leadership team along with the Department of Nutrition hosted the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium. The event, which launched our 3rd PHW Colloquia series focused on illustrating how policy is used to promote healthy weight in the MCH population at all levels of the Socio-Ecological Model (SEM) by Urie Bronfenbrenner. 

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The Spring 2019 colloquium featured five speakers, which included distinguished faculty from the Departments of Child & Family Studies and Public Health at UT, Dr. Hillary Fouts and Dr. Carole Myers, who introduced the Socio-Ecological model as a framework for promoting healthy weight and discussed how policy can influence healthy weight promotion at all levels. The next speaker, Dr. Karla Shelnutt, from The University of Florida provided an overview of the extension program and SNAP-Ed interventions from the individual level to a Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) approach. Our fourth speaker, Jennifer Russomanno a DrPH student in the Public Health Department, presented on ways to connect participants in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program with local farmers. To conclude, Leslie Lewis, from the Louisiana Department of Health spoke about the Collaborative Improvement & Innovative Network (CoIIN) and its role in implementation of state-level policies for the promotion of children’s healthy weight.

To view the archived Spring 2019 colloquium, please visit the link below:
PHW3.0: A Socio-Ecological Perspective—Policy at All Levels

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.