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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
April 2, 2008
DeKalb — Sandra Meister, the Northern Illinois University graduate student in nutrition and dietetics who last year created a guide to healthy eating in DeKalb restaurants, has been named the state’s outstanding dietetic intern.
Meister traveled to the Illinois Dietetic Association’s spring assembly, held Thursday, March 20, in Oak Brook, to receive her honor – one she didn’t expect. Her dietetic internship only began this semester, she says, and most of her notable accomplishments came during her graduate assistantship last year.
“This gives me a lot more purpose to prove I’m a good dietetic intern,” Meister says. “It is very challenging, and I’m only now completing the first phase, but I will work a lot harder knowing I have that title.”
The Illinois Dietetic Association also selects outstanding educators and outstanding undergraduate students for statewide honors. Nominations required letters of support that indicate academic excellence, leadership potential and exemplary on-site performance.
NIU’s dietetic internship, housed in the College of Health and Human Sciences, requires 900 hours of supervised on-site practice. After students complete the practicum, they are qualified to sit for the exam to become registered dietitians.
Meister began work in Douglas Hall food service in January as a management trainee, completing that initial phase Friday. She learned every aspect of the job, from procurement to production to management. Part of her time was spent in the test kitchen, where managers sampled new recipes of cultural foods up for trial during next semester’s Unity in Diversity week.
Phase Two takes her to Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, where she will work in medical nutrition therapy.
“I shadow dietitians, and then move into staff relief, becoming one of the dietitians on the floor,” she says. “We’re looking at various diseases states, making nutritional recommendations, writing diets.”
This fall, Meister will begin the third and final phase of her internship in community nutrition. “I’m excited for that, because that’s my interest,” she says.
Options for autumn include eating disorder clinics, corporate wellness programs, diabetes education and the Rec Center on campus.
Community nutrition work is reminiscent of her recent activities with NIU Huskies athletes, trainers and coaches, all under the supervision of FCNS professor Judith Lukaszuk.
Meister’s presentations to those groups enhanced the athletes’ performance and overall health, including discussions of fluid replacement, pre- and post-competition meals, portion sizes, protein, healthy snacking and label reading.
A number of NIU football players 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.
When she noticed that many of the athletes used Huskie Bucks for meals at McDonald’s – “a fast way for them to eat after practice,” she says – she assembled her guide to local healthy eating.
She analyzed the menus of 19 local restaurants, all of which accept Huskie Bucks, in an effort to find the healthy selections. Her 16-page report lists the best options from each with occasional tips on how to eat even smarter.
Interest in the work earned Meister a number of interviews last fall with newspapers and on television and radio.
“Sandra is really an outstanding student,” says Lucy Robinson, director of the dietetic internship program in the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences. “She’s very knowledgeable, very much a leader and very much committed to a high level of performance. She’s going to make a great dietitian some day.”
Meister expects to complete her master’s degree in May 2009 and hopes to enroll in a doctoral program at Arizona State University, which offers an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in health, nutrition and physical activity.
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