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

UC Berkeley Nutrition Spotlight: Ronli Levi

At the end of February, the second year Public Health Nutrition students had the opportunity to present their final capstone projects. Over the course of the last year, students have been working tirelessly with faculty, preceptors, and one another to conduct literature reviews, analyze data and develop a framework of recommendations for complex Public Health Nutrition problems.

Among the presenters were a number of second year MCH nutrition trainees. ronli
Trainees presented on a wide range of topics, drawing on both original research and case study analyses. Examples of projects included a quantitative analysis of the diet quality of breakfast in school-aged children before and after the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, a global case study on the maternal nutrition needs of Syrian refugees and an examination of the association between environmental risk factors and BMI. After many months of work, it was inspiring to hear all of the research being done on so many different aspects of MCH nutrition.

I was also able to present my own research findings on a study that examined the association between food security status and health care use among low income Californians. Food insecurity has been increasingly associated with the development of chronic diseases and poor disease management. Furthermore, evidence has shown many patients are being forced to choose between purchasing food or their medications. The goal of this research was to better understand the extent to which food insecurity contributes to healthcare use in order to inform policies that better align our healthcare system with social determinants of health interventions. In the future, I hope to continue exploring ways in which we can create better access to food in order to improve the overall health and wellbeing of individuals and families.

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UMN Trainee Spotlight: Rachel Wirthlin

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Rachel Wirthlin is a MCH Trainee from the University of Minnesota. She is a second-year graduate student in the Coordinated Public Health Nutrition program. She is originally from Provo, Utah and graduated in Dietetics from Brigham Young University. This post details the work she hasbeen doing this year.

This year, I have had the privilege of working with the Bloomington School District in Bloomington, MN. Recently, the state of Minnesota has called all school districts to update their wellness policies. The guidelines have been very strict and school districts are no longer allowed to bring outside food that is not Smart Snack approved.

Smart Snack is a federal program that provides guidelines for snacks that are healthy and can be given to children in schools. This means that cake, cupcakes, candy, and other unhealthy snacks are no longer allowed for birthday parties, fundraisers, or other celebrations. Bloomington school district is part of this change.

It has been interesting being involved in developing evaluations for each school, creating resources for parents and teachers on what is allowed for snacks at school, and attending committee meetings and PTA meetings with the community. I attended a PTA meeting at a school that was particularly unhappy about these changes. It was a great opportunity to witness that change, especially public health change, is not always easy like we sometimes believe it is. After clearly communicating why the policy was in place and why they needed to make changes, some parents were able to accept the upcoming changes. However, there are still parents who do not believe that this policy should be in place and share their explicit opposition with us.

As schools get used to these changes, I believe that children may be able to be healthier and learn more about nutrition and receive the nutrients they need through foods that are not high in added sugars. Policy change is difficult, and it will take many years to get parents on board, but it is a slow process, and one I believe will work out in the end!

-Rachel Wirthlin

Continue reading “UMN Trainee Spotlight: Rachel Wirthlin”

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Alexandra Alford

Alexandra is a trainee at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Alexandra has been funded by the MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education and Training Program since August 2015, and is currently completing her dietetic internship.

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Each semester at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, we plan and lead leadership workshops for the first-year students in the Public Health Nutrition program. These workshops allow students gain additional leadership skills and collaborate with their classmates to form better relationships. Since I am now a third-year student, I had the opportunity to lead some of the sessions.

Initially, I was a little worried about whether or not I was prepared, and if students would take me seriously since I was one of their peers. However, after looking at the materials provided and remembering my own experiences I was able to relax about the situation a little more. I also realized that this was a valuable experience and I needed to appreciate and delve into this opportunity.

I’ve helped with leadership workshops that ranged in topics from personality testing to organizational leadership skills. All have allowed me to learn more about my peers, but also a little more about myself. I was able to come full circle, from participating in the activities to leading them, which allowed for self-reflection in addition to the leadership and training skills that were gained. Again, these leadership workshops are beneficial for growth in the new graduate students and myself. They have helped me gain a better understanding and appreciation of my role as an MCH Nutrition trainee!

-Alexandra Alford, MCH Nutrition Trainee, University of Tennessee

CSU (Western Partner) Trainee Spotlight: Cameron Herritt

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Cameron is an MCH Nutrition trainee at Colorado State University.  He is currently completing his Masters of Public Health in Physical Activity and Healthy Lifestyles with a focus on adolescent nutrition.  This post entails the research that he conducts on the National School Lunch Program and the associated food waste. 

Improving NSLP Programs Through Food Waste Data Collection and Food Systems Education

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is one of the most influential food delivery programs for adolescent and child health in the United States.  Providing food for approximately 30 million children every day around the country is no small feat.  To help support that program, the USDA, along with many other organizations, conduct research to improve program efficiency, child food acceptance, and nutritional standards.  The research I have had the privilege to work with throughout my master’s program involves the selection, consumption, and waste of foods provided in the school meal program.  Improving what goes on the plate is the first critical step to improving nutrition in schools; however, the next significant step is improving student consumption of those foods.

The goal of the research project I work with, Healthy Planet Healthy Youth, is to investigate, implement and evaluate strategies for food waste reduction and food recovery in Northern Colorado public schools while concomitantly improving student diet quality.  I have had the opportunity to interview kitchen managers, nutrition services directors and other team members with influence on the management of the NSLP at the local level.  We have conducted observations in schools to assess waste levels and to determine opportunities for improvement as well as sharing techniques and best practices that decrease food waste in schools.  We are also conducting a student educational intervention to see if food systems education will influence student diet quality and/or waste volume in middle schools lunchrooms. Lastly, we are also investigating the use of share tables as a means to reduce landfill disposal of food and address child food insecurity.

Working on this research project has provided me with many skills that I plan to use in my career, including creating opportunities for community collaboration in data collection and research.  We recognize that the populations we work with are the actual experts and that first-hand opinions and experiences with the problems are critical for making effective programs and enacting positive change.  I look forward to utilizing these skills and the knowledge gained in this research to improve programs for our most vulnerable populations, most specifically, of course, our MCH populations.

-Cameron Herritt, MCH Nutrition Trainee, Colorado State University

 

 

UC Berkeley Trainee Spotlight: Lilly Nhan

Lilly Nhan is a trainee at University of California, Berkeley. She is currently working on research examining the association between characteristics of community and school-level programs and policies and children’s dietary intake and weight status. In this blog post, she highlights her team’s research approach.Headshot_LNhan_2017 copy

With the rise in childhood obesity over the past several decades, numerous programs and interventions have been implemented with the goal of improving children’s diet and overall health. Efforts have spanned from the federal level, such as the USDA’s Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge, to community-based interventions, such as Shape Up Somerville. Furthermore, at the local level communities and school can also implement their own health and wellness related policies.

Thus, children across the US are living in communities with varying numbers and intensities of these programs and policies aimed at improving their health. Instead of focusing on a single intervention, this research seeks to understand across these varying types of interventions, what characteristics of programs and policies are associated with the most beneficial dietary and health outcomes in children. Examples of such characteristics include the amount or combinations of community programs and policies, their intensity, or duration.

This research will (a) characterize the breadth and scope of programs and policies aimed at tackling childhood obesity across multiple US communities, (b) identify the characteristics of these programs and policies that are associated with the best dietary and health outcomes, and (c) help inform best practices for the design and implementation of future childhood obesity interventions.

Working on this project has shown me the importance of research that acknowledges the dynamic interplay between an individual and their environment. People’s eating behaviors are shaped by their physical, social, and economic environments. Consequently, in order for interventions to be effective, they must recognize and meet the needs of their target population and their environment.

I have been inspired by this experience to continue working in childhood obesity research. Through this research, I hope to serve as an advocate for the equitable health and well-being of children across the U.S.

– Lilly Nhan, MCH Nutrition Trainee, University of California, Berkeley

UTK Trainee Spotlight: Marissa McElrone

Marissa McElroneMarissa has been a funded MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education and Training Program trainee at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville since January 2016. This blog post entails her recent appointment as an ambassador in the MCHB Trainee Ambassador Group.

MCHB’s Trainee Ambassador Group (TAG)

Starting this January 2018, I will be serving a 12-month term as a member of the Trainee Ambassador Group (TAG). Established by MCHB’s Division of MCH Workforce Development (DMCHWD) in 2015, TAG is an ongoing vehicle for working collaboratively with trainees of the MCH Training Program. TAG is composed of trainee representative from a range of DMCHWD programs including:

  • Leadership Education in Adolescent Health (LEAH)
  • Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND)
  • MCH Nutrition
  • MCH Pipeline
  • Pediatric Pulmonary Centers (PPC)
  • Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP)
  • Centers of Excellence in MCH (CoE)

 The goals of the TAG are to foster connections between trainees across the MCH Training Program, provide trainees with leadership development opportunities, and strengthen the link between trainees and MCHB.

Through the TAG, MCHB is:

  1. Strengthening the link between trainees and MCHB
  2. Increasing awareness about the importance of utilizing and engaging trainees
  3. Increasing current trainee awareness/knowledge about the full range of training programs
  4. Improving communication and collaboration among trainees within and across training programs
  5. Facilitating connections between current and former trainees
  6. Providing trainees with additional leadership development opportunities

The TAG provides trainees with the opportunity to conceptualize, develop, and lead efforts to facilitate trainee connections via activities such as a mentoring program, trainee forums, and collaborative research projects.

For information about eligibility and TAG ambassador roles and responsibilities visit the TAG informational page on the MCHB website. Also, check out this TAG introductory video the 2015 cohort created. I look forward to sharing more about my experiences on TAG as the year continues!

-Marissa McElrone, MCH Trainee, University of Tennessee, Knoxville