Nutrition students join with kids in community housing for cooking, gardening and taste-testing.
In these cases, there isn’t a registered dietitian at the agency. They really get to use their knowledge and be the experts in food and nutrition.”
Better Food Brighter Future
Seeing a 10-year-old happily holding a heaping plate of salad is rare for anyone, but for Hannah Henrichs it had special meaning — because she was the reason behind it. “To see a kid eating salad and not even wanting dressing was very rewarding to me as a nutrition major,” says Henrichs. “I learned that kids really like vegetables.” Henrichs was part of a group of UA students who cooked, gardened and held taste tests with children at The Brown House, a community housing complex in Northport. The project was one of several that students undertook as part of a new service-learning version of NHM 485 Supervised Practice in Dietetics Management and Communications.
“This was an awesome experience. I got to apply my major and what I’m really passionate about and share that. It was the highlight of my week,” says Henrichs, who graduated in 2014 and is pursuing a master’s degree in human nutrition. In addition to teaching children at the Northport public-housing complex about where food comes from and how to tastefully prepare it, students conducted several other projects as well. They worked with patients at the Good Samaritan Clinic in Tuscaloosa, teaching nutrition classes and holding a Women’s Empowerment Day; offered recipes and nutrition education to those who receive food from the Central Alabama Food Bank; set up a nutrition booth at the Children’s Hands-On Museum in Tuscaloosa; created recipe cards and a cookbook for the nonprofit Druid City Garden Project, which operates school gardens; and planted fruit trees at a Tuscaloosa youth detention facility. In all, 23 students devoted 6,900 service hours to these projects in spring 2015.
Lori Greene, director of the Coordinated Program in Dietetics, added service learning to NHM 485, which is the culminating course in the Coordinated Program in Dietetics. Students who want to become registered dietitians can combine a bachelor’s degree with a required internship that otherwise takes place after graduation. This enables them to achieve their goal in four years instead of five.
Greene says the addition of service learning has revolutionized the class, and many students now say it’s their favorite rotation. “Even though they get real-life experience in all of these rotations, this is another level. They create the programs. They are like real professionals in the field. They get to decide what they think is best, based on their training. That just doesn’t happen a lot. Usually, they’re being told what to do.”
Other rotations typically pair students with registered dietitians in health facilities. Students in NHM 485 mainly work with community-agency administrators. “In these cases, there isn’t a registered dietitian at the agency,” Greene says. “They really get to use their knowledge and be the experts in food and nutrition.”
NHM 485’s previous focus on research and analysis was incorporated into the service-learning version of the course, Greene says. Whereas before, students partnered with research faculty and conducted surveys in classrooms, nursing homes and other facilities, they now complete an assessment through the community organization where they work — researching what the organization’s clients eat or their nutrition knowledge, for instance — and present a related literature review to the Alabama Dietetic Association and at the UA Undergraduate Research Conference. At the end of the fall semester, students form groups of four to six and, with Greene’s guidance, select community partners from UA’s service learning database.
“Choosing our own organizations to work with gave us a chance to focus on our possible career interests,” says Becky McGuigan, a food and nutrition major who graduated in 2014.
Henrichs, who also attended culinary school, hopes to become a personal nutrition counselor and wants to make cooking an aspect of her work with clients. “I think it’s very important to show people that they can cook healthy things so they taste good,” she says. Working at The Brown House taught Henrichs strategies that are effective with kids, as well as the fundamentals of running an initiative. “I gained a lot of confidence from creating a program that works,” she says.
Greene meets with each group once a month to discuss assignments and tasks related to the NHM 485 course, as well as how things are going at their community organizations. Students complete weekly journal entries and submit midterm and final reports.
At the end of the semester, students bring junior nutrition students to visit their community agencies and explain their work so juniors can continue it the following year if they choose.
Greene says the goal for the service-learning version of the course is two-fold. “I want them to be able to work independently and to use the knowledge they’ve gained over their four years with us,” she says. Instilling a sense of lifelong learning and service to community also is key. “The things they do, they probably wouldn’t get paid for, but they will hopefully see how rewarding and important serving the community is and want to do that once they become dietitians.”
The course seems to be meeting both objectives. “I definitely feel the need to get involved in my community to provide nutrition education to those who otherwise would not be exposed to it,” says graduate student Kristen Guenther. “I hope to find a place in my new community where I can help out,” she says.
To learn more about NHM 485 Supervised Practice in Dietetics Management and Communications, contact Lori Greene at 205-348-4710 or firstname.lastname@example.org.