UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Ruth Wooten

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Ruth Wooten, an alumnus of the Maternal and Child Health Leadership traineeship, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and completed her Master’s program in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Tennessee. This blog post describes her recent publication/thesis research.

Upon entering graduate school, I was not convinced that I wanted to pursue the thesis track for my degree. I certainly found research interesting but was not positive that I wanted to tackle such a daunting task and bury myself in one specific topic. My major professor, Dr. Betsy Anderson Steeves, had a project for our research lab that was to assess food insecurity rates on campus to contribute to a regional wide survey being administered by members of the Southeastern Universities Consortium on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition. I was assigned as the lead on the project and became more invested in the research. Eventually, I decided to take this research project and form it into my thesis research. Instead of only assessing food insecurity rates at our campus, I decided, with the assistance of my committee, that it would be advantageous to assess rates at the three other campuses in our university system to capture a larger population. During my first semester as a MCH Nutrition trainee (spring 2017), I attended our annual MCH grantees meeting and had several conversations with fellow trainees and directors who were assessing similar information at their universities. I was thankful to have a network of researchers pursuing a topic that could unveil information beneficial to the public health nutrition community. The MCH training grant exposed me to a community of graduate students and nutrition professionals from across the country that added value to my research process.

During the fall semester of 2017, an online survey was administered to over 38,000 students to assess their food insecurity rates as well as factors that related to their food insecurity status. We had a fairly good response rate (12.5%)1 for online surveys and resulted in a large amount of data to analyze. I analyzed data and wrote my thesis during the spring semester of 2018. After successfully defending in April 2018, I began finalizing my thesis for publication. The various tasks that I completed as a trainee were helpful in developing my skills to research, write a manuscript, and complete the publication process. Just a few months ago, we were told that the manuscript was accepted for publication. I realized that this research was important and could make an impact on a larger scale than just my department or university.

Without providing too many spoilers, the study revealed that 36% of students were food insecure, meaning that they did not have adequate access to food to live a normal life.1 Several factors were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing food insecurity, including previous food insecurity before attending college, financial factors, and self-reported grade point average.1 The full study can be found at the citation at the bottom of this post.

Since the completion of this project, several exciting things have happened on campus at the University of Tennessee, including: an on-campus task force for student hunger and homelessness, an interview with Dr. Anderson Steeves on NPR, and the implementation of the 2-item food insecurity screener on intake forms at the student health center.

1Wooten R, Spence M, Colby S, Anderson Steeves E. Assessing food insecurity prevalence and associated factors among college students enrolled in a university in the southeast USA. Public Health Nutrition. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980018003531

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/assessing-food-insecurity-prevalence-and-associated-factors-among-college-students-enrolled-in-a-university-in-the-southeast-usa/C7CBF2D99C7E2A0F568334554787D031

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Veronica Rubio

IMG_3218Veronica is a first-year graduate student in the Nutrition program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Veronica also received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition at UTK in 2014. She then went on to complete her dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Veronica worked as a registered dietitian in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in South Carolina, and served as a clinical dietitian in the island of American Samoa. Veronica has been a MCH Nutrition trainee since August 2018.

My earliest experience working with the MCH population dates back to my volunteer work as an undergraduate. I worked as a research assistant with Dr. Marsha Spence (UTK) for the Cardiac Club Program, which is an afterschool nutrition and physical activity intervention program for elementary school-age children in fourth and fifth grades. Additionally, I worked as a nutrition educator for the Healthy Kid’s Club program ran by East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. For this program, I helped plan and teach weekly nutrition lessons and games that focused on movement and physical activity. My interest in working with this population grew throughout my dietetic internship, both in my community and clinical rotations, where I chose a concentration in pediatrics/pediatric oncology. My experience in public health nutrition further developed with my work as an RD for the WIC program.

So far, as a trainee, one of the projects I am leading is the diversity recruitment and retention committee. The committee is comprised of faculty members from both the Departments of Nutrition and Public Health at UTK. Currently, the committee is planning strategies to increase recruitment efforts of racially/ethnically diverse students into the dietetics profession. One of these strategies includes visiting historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the surrounding states. Another strategy is to create an infographic to disseminate to Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges/universities that are further away. I am excited about the many opportunities the traineeship offers, and am looking forward to increasing my knowledge, refining my leadership skills, and better serving the MCH population.

UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Amber Ford

41863277_1627707123999886_4560250744220942336_nAmber Ford, an alumnus of the Maternal and Child Health Leadership traineeship, is a registered and licensed dietitian at the Knox County Health Department. At the University of Tennessee, Amber completed a dual Master’s program in Public Health and Public Health Nutrition, and completed the dietetic internship. As a Public Health Educator, Amber has focused on school health for the past three years.  

I completed the dual master’s program in public health and nutrition along with the dietetic internship through the University of Tennessee in December 2015. Serving as an MCH trainee was one of the biggest highlights of my time in the program, and the training and experience I received have been so valuable in my current position. I’ve worked as a Public Health Educator focused on school health at the Knox County Health Department for the past three years.

In my role, I specifically partner with Knox County Community Schools to help improve the health of students and families as it relates to nutrition and physical activity. The Community Schools initiative aims to use public schools as hubs for community resources to improve health and academic success. This involves working alongside teachers, students, and families to identify their specific needs and bringing in partners and resources to address these needs. We currently have 18 Community Schools in Knox County, and most of my work is aimed at creating and enhancing access to places for physical activity, promoting increased physical activity and physical education, creating supportive nutrition environments, and increasing access to healthy foods for students and families.

Throughout my time as a trainee, I had the opportunity to lead the cultural and linguistic competency workshops, Interactions that Make a Difference, for graduate students and frontline staff of health departments in East Tennessee. Countless times, I’ve used the skills I developed in presenting and leading trainings for diverse audiences, but I also use the cultural competency knowledge I gained on a daily basis. Our Community Schools are some of the most diverse and economically disadvantaged in our county, and the knowledge and skills provided by these trainings have improved my interactions with the students and families I serve and have helped me develop more culturally competent interventions.

Further, my time as a trainee equipped me with other skills for which I am consistently grateful. Working with a team to plan and implement the bi-annual Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium improved my long-range planning skills, efficiency, and ability to delegate and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of others and myself. Assessment and evaluation of community needs and effectiveness of our interventions are important for sustained funding and effective utilization of limited resources, and I’m able to rely on the practices of regular evaluation and responding to evaluation outcomes used throughout my time as a trainee. All and all, I can’t say enough about how much serving as an MCH trainee impacted me and shaped the work I do. Well worth every minute!

 

UTK Former Trainee Spotlight: Megan Rodgers

IMG_2898Megan Rodgers, an alumnus of the Maternal and Child Health Leadership traineeship, is a registered and licensed dietitian at the Knox County Health Department. At the University of Tennessee, Megan obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition, a Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition and completed the dietetic internship. Megan’s work at the health department focuses on planning, implementing and evaluating an afterschool program that teaches children about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity. She also strives to improve the afterschool environment through policy, systems and environmental changes that positively impact all students who attend afterschool care at these sites. Megan’s work directly engages the MCH population, which she grew to love through her time as a trainee. She is an active member of the Knoxville Area Afterschool Network and is on the Board of Directors for the Knoxville Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Leveraging a Community-Academic Partnership to Address Childhood Obesity: A poster presentation at the Tennessee Public Health Association annual meeting in Franklin, TN

At the Tennessee Public Health Association annual meeting in September 2018, I presented data from a recent plate waste study completed at three afterschool sites in the Knoxville area. Results from this study showed very high plate waste at all sites for all dinner meal components. This is of concern for many reasons, but especially because these afterschool centers serve many low-income, food insecure children.

During this study, collaboration between the Knox County Health Department and the University of Tennessee’s Departments of Nutrition and Public Health created an opportunity for graduate level students to gain hands-on experience and to apply academic training to a community setting. The value of the community-academic partnership enabled successful data collection and project execution.

On two separate occasions, a stratified random sample of dinner meals were collected at three afterschool sites. Standard dinner meals were obtained from the community kitchen that provides meals to the afterschool sites. These standard meals were used to calculate an average amount of each meal component and served as a comparison reference for participant meals collected. The amount of food wasted was astonishingly high and indicates a need for an evidence-based intervention to increase acceptability and consumption of the dinner meal at these afterschool sites. The community-academic partners will seek additional funding to plan, implement and evaluate an intervention that seeks to accomplish this goal. Collaborative partnerships are essential to addressing public health issues such as food insecurity and childhood obesity while training the future of the public health workforce.

As a registered dietitian, I am passionate about improving the health and well-being of children. The afterschool time serves as a prime platform for providing children with healthy, nutritious foods. Many of these children may not have access to healthy foods outside of the afterschool program’s doors, so we need to take this opportunity and make the most of it. Of course, we want our children to be well fed and to be successful inside and outside of the classroom. Adequate nutrition can play a key role in that.

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Marissa McElrone & Marissa Black

This blog post highlights the work of two funded MCH trainees from the University of Tennessee, Marissa McElrone and Marissa Black. McElrone (left), a funded MCH trainee since January 2016, is a PhD candidate pursing her doctoral degree in Community Nutrition. Black (right) has been a funded MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education and Training Program trainee since January 2018, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition.  This blog post discusses their trainee experiences providing cultural and linguistic competence workshops to Tennessee Title V Personnel. 

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Interactions that Make a Difference

Interactions that Make a Difference (ITMD) is a daylong cultural and linguistic competency workshopfacilitated by University of Tennessee MCH Nutrition faculty and funded trainees. ITMD workshops target Tennessee Title V Personnel from across the state focusing on enhancing personal cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills. Workshop are designed to accommodate 12-15 participants who have direct interaction with clients and individuals receiving services at health departments.

Marissa McElrone: As a funded trainee I have had numerous opportunities to enhance my own cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills. These experiences have enriched my passion for the subject and have even evolved into a focal point in my own research. Although my own work is incredibly rewarding, facilitating ITMD workshops across the state has allowed me to impact a much larger population. Front line staff have direct contact with various MCH populations on a daily basis. By providing cultural competency training to these individuals, ITMD has the power to improve access to culturally competent health care services for Tennessee’s MCH populations.

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Marissa McElrone facilitating the ITMD workshop for Mid Cumberland Regional Office.

Marissa Black: This summer, we traveled to the Mid Cumberland Regional Office to facilitate the ITMD workshop. As this was my first time facilitating an ITMD workshop, I was incredibly nervous! However, as the day went on and our participants began to open up about their experiences, I became more comfortable as well.

As an incoming Public Health Nutrition graduate student, I participated in a similar workshop. The cultural and linguistic competence training I received helped me understand the awareness, knowledge, and skills that are necessary to work in a cross-cultural environment. It was a great experience to use the knowledge I learned as a new student to help train Title V personnel. It was also rewarding to have important conversations about sensitive topics such as racism and stereotypes that people are often too afraid to talk about.

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Marissa Black & Marissa McElrone

This blog post highlights the work of two funded MCH trainees from the University of Tennessee, Marissa Black and Marissa McElrone. Black (left) has been a funded MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education and Training Program trainee since January 2018, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition. McElrone (right), a funded MCH trainee since January 2016, is a PhD candidate pursing her doctoral degree in Community Nutrition. This blog post discusses their involvement in a recent university-wide, public policy challenge. Black was an enrolled student on the Public Health Nutrition Policy Team, while McElrone offered teaching and mentoring as a teaching assistant for the course/challenge.

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Fresh Food for All: Improving Local MCH through Policy

The Howard Baker Center Grand Policy Challenge (HBCGPC) started in 2013, as a practical experience for University of Tennessee students to address real issues in their communities and beyond, through public policy engagement. The HBCGPC, based on the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute Policy Challenge, required students to identify, research and analyze an issue, identify and engage stakeholders, critically think as a team, and develop innovative solutions through policy. The Public Health Nutrition Policy Team’s policy, Fresh Food for All, focused on improving the 2018 WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) redemption rates in Knox County, Tennessee.

Marissa Black: Participating in the policy challenge was a rewarding experience that helped me apply the basics of policy development to an issue affecting our local MCH population. Our team consisted of students with different research interests in the fields of Public Health and Nutrition. Some members studied food insecurity, others researched gardening programs, and one member was an actual farmer who had participated in the FMNP the previous year! Having a stakeholder in our team made it easier to build connections with other stakeholders, and gave us a unique perspective on the issue.

In the beginning stages of our policy brief development, our team met with local stakeholders including WIC educators, farmers market representatives, and food policy council-members to negotiate the terms of the policy. It was exciting to bring together an inter-professional group of people with different roles in the community who were all passionate about improving the lives of WIC families. The policy challenge helped me develop skills in critical thinking, negotiation, interdisciplinary team building, and of course policy and advocacy!

Feel free to view the policy brief, video, and blog post we created for the policy challenge!

Picture1The Fresh Food for All policy group presenting at the Nutrition Education Discourse at the University of Tennessee

Marissa McElrone: During my first year of graduate school, I participated in the HBCGPC as a student enrolled in the public health nutrition policy course. My policy team’s brief entitled Feed the Garden Feed the Kids, focused on an innovative approach to incorporate urban agriculture into the USDA Summer Feeding Programs of Knoxville, Tennessee. The experience helped develop my knowledge and understanding of the policy process and how it impacts MCH populations. The experiential learning of the HBCGPC fostered critical thinking, team building, and pushed me to think of innovative ways to improve the lives of MCH populations through policy. Currently, as the teaching assistant for the public health nutrition policy course, I have the opportunity to develop and mentor other students through the same process. Not only am I strengthening the skills I fostered as an enrolled student, but I am now able to help develop others in these same leadership competencies.

 

 

 

 

 

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Marissa Black

UntitledMarissa Black is a graduate student studying Public Health Nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has been an MCH trainee since January 2018. She will complete her Dietetic Internship in 2020 and hopes to work in pediatrics as a registered dietitian.

Every Spring and Fall semester, the Public Health Nutrition Program at the University of Tennessee hosts the Promoting Healthy Weight Colloquium. The colloquia focus on assessing, preventing, and treating obesity in the maternal and child population. This Spring’s colloquium focused on interprofessional collaborations to promote healthy weight.

This Spring was my first opportunity to help organize a colloquium as an MCH trainee, and I was invited to promote the event on live tv. One of our former MCH Nutrition Leadership trainees who has connections with the local media was able to secure a spot on the set of Live at Five at Four, a local news segment here in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was nervous when I found out I would be on tv, but after preparing a script and rehearsing over and over again, I finally felt confident enough to deliver the information.

Being on the set of a news channel was a surreal experience. I had always imagined there would be an audience, but the studio was surprisingly quiet. The camera crew and anchors were very personable and made me feel more comfortable about speaking on live tv. I now feel like a local celebrity! I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to practice communicating on camera.

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Marissa joined former MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainee Lee Murphy on the local news