Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
April 26, 2007
DeKalb — In a world of fad diets, metabolism pills and gastric bypass surgeries, it’s not always easy to find unbiased advice on how best to eat.
That’s where nutritionists come in – and Northern Illinois University is making sure the nutritionists it produces have practical experience in delivering that message to the public.
Housed in the College of Health and Human Sciences, the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences includes a hearty portion of service learning in its Nutrition and Dietetics program.
“Allowing students to do outreach in the community introduces them to a different side of dietetics. It’s a whole new venue where they can find jobs beyond clinical and food service,” FCNS professor Amy Ozier said. “A special thing about our program is that we’re not only didactic. We keep the didactic work, and in every sense we have them apply it to real life. We bring the real world to them.”
Meanwhile, the work done by undergraduate and graduate/intern students in several Nutrition and Dietetics courses not only provides “hands-on” experience but also benefits the residents of northern Illinois.
Most recently, some students conducted “Spring Wright Into Health” wellness night Monday, April 23, at Wright School.
Other recent examples:
“There are so many benefits to students working in the community, especially seeing the power of theory meeting practice,” Ozier said. “Ultimately, these students can get a foot in the door, do a good job and maybe go back.”
Sandra Meister, a master’s degree student in nutrition and dietetics, is working with Lukaszuk to consult NIU athletes.
Meister designs sport-specific presentations. Her audiences include players, trainers and coaches.
“So far I have given presentations for the softball, women’s soccer, football, volleyball and golf teams,” she said. “We’re just trying to help enhance their performance and overall health. We talk to the players about fluid replacement, pre- and post-competition meals, portion sizes, protein, healthy snacking and label reading – whatever will benefit them the most.”
Additional research is involved.
“When I went to present to the golf team, I pulled up some information on the humidity levels of where they’ll be playing in April, May and June,” she said. “Since they’re sometimes on the course for 10 hours at a time, we talked about snacks they can bring along to keep their blood sugar levels steady.”
NIU’s football players also have enjoyed the lessons, she said.
Several of them kept three-day food records – two weekdays and one weekend day – and sent the information to Meister, who analyzed their nutritional practices through the Foodwise computer program. The program creates individualized reports that Lukaszuk, a registered dietitian, uses when she sits down with the team members.
Such intervention is critical for sports performance enhancement and long-term health, Meister said.
“Their training is very intense. If they are not getting the right amount of calories from the right food sources, then they can really do damage to their bodies. Proper nutrition enhances the results of the work they do in the weight room,” she said.
Tiffany Gouldsberry, also a master’s degree student and dietetic intern, helped to coordinate a health night event at Wright School.
Designed for the whole family, the evening featured programs on healthy snacks – children made “bugs” out of carrot sticks, grapes, celery, raisins and more – as well as relieving stress and physical activity.
“It was a really good start for me to do that before the internship – to go out into the community and see what kind of programming we could offer the general public to improve their nutrition and increase their physical activity,” Gouldsberry said.
Indeed, she plans to continue the community emphasis into her professional life. “I want to work with well people,” she said, “and work more in prevention rather than intervention.”
For Stephanie Kalivas, who graduated last May and now works as a diet technician and fitness coach, the outreach came in the form of the “Fit Families” and food pyramid handouts.
“We were working with the DeKalb County WIC program,” Kalivas said. “Our project was related to the childhood obesity issue and helping their nutritionists develop some materials for their clients.”
The project branched into devising strategies for nutritionists on how to use a nutrition education handout created by Community Nutrition students to address overweight or the potential of overweight in children. “It’s obviously a sensitive issue. We got very positive feedback at the end of the semester,” she said.
“It was just a great experience to be out in the professional setting working with these WIC nutritionists,” Kalivas added. “We got a little glimpse into what they do on an everyday basis and learned a lot about the childhood obesity epidemic, which continues to escalate in this country, unfortunately.”
Graduate student Tom Jordan counseled patrons of the Student Recreation Center interested in changing their diets.
“They’d give us what they’re currently eating and tell us what their exercise or fitness goals were, and then we’d try to correlate changes,” Jordan said. “A lot of people who would come in were eating just one really big meal a day. We worked on trying to get them to eat smaller meals portioned throughout the day.”
Even though the students knew “they were supposed to exercise and go over to the Rec, they didn’t know what they should be doing,” Jordan added. “It gave them an opportunity to ask other questions: ‘Is this food healthy?’ ‘I heard this from a friend. Is this right?’ They really do learn quite a bit.”
As did Jordan.
“It was good for me just to be able to have the experience of talking with people, seeing what they’re going through and approaching the problem-solving,” he said. “I’d love to do counseling at a fitness facility or with a sports team.”
Although the work in the community can be rigorous, students mostly are positive about their experiences and walk away with a better idea of what a dietitian or nutritionist does in the community.
“Seeing the work the nutrition and dietetics students do is inspiring,” Ozier said. “They make the ND faculty and the NIU community proud.”
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