Elizabeth Kroeger: Feeding Young Minds
How did you choose your area of graduate study?
The field of nutrition science is so new that a vast amount of research and discoveries are still being made. I have always been into health and wellness, and while reading magazines and articles on this subject was something I enjoyed doing, I soon found my interest turning into frustration. I felt like I could never get the facts right, with every article telling me something different, some new research that came out saying this nutrition guideline is better than that or finding out that a nutrition fact you knew all your life and have been abiding by was only a myth. Suddenly I wanted to dig deeper than reading health magazines and find out the truth about nutrition. Once I started studying nutrition as my undergraduate area of study, I realized that there was so much misguiding information because the field was so new and not yet fully understood. As my knowledge of the field continued to grow, so did my curiosity. When some of the answers weren't there, I knew I wanted to further study this field in order to answer some of my curiosities. As a result, I decided my ultimate goal was to become a researcher/professor at a university, in which a graduate degree is necessary in order to eventually obtain a PhD.
What do you find most challenging/rewarding about your graduate school experience?
The most challenging/rewarding aspect of my graduate school experience is balancing all the tasks at hand in the little amount of time that a day provides. I am the Snack Rx Program Administrator, a grant funded by Vidant Community Health Foundation that supports faculty and students from East Carolina University Department of Nutrition Science in providing an after school nutrition education and healthy snack program, servicing over 300 children aged 6-18 years in Boys & Girls Club facilities in Pitt County. Snack Rx offers: 1) hands-on nutrition education lessons and healthy snacks that emphasize how healthy eating can help children "think smart" and "stay strong"; 2) a gardening program that promotes consumption of fresh produce; and 3) field trips and guest speaker presentations that promote health and career exploration. Seeing the knowledge and excitement the children are gaining towards nutrition is something that is so exciting to see! I'll never forget one little girl at the Ayden facility came up to me one afternoon and said "Miss Lizzy, I showed my mom how to make eggplant fritters this weekend and we like them better than French fries. I didn't know healthy food could be so yummy," and then proceeded to give me a big hug! The children are not the only ones that benefit from this program. Being able to grow this program throughout my undergraduate career and keep it going while in graduate school is an experience that I have loved doing and have learned so much about my career, things that cannot be taught in the classroom that are great tools to add to my tool box as I continue through graduate school and into my future studies.
What is cool about your area of study and why should people care about it?
Are you kidding me!? Everything is cool about nutrition! What person do you know that doesn't consume food every day? Everyone engages in nutrition every day, whether they realize they're doing it or not! A lot of times people think the field of nutrition is all about teaching people to lose weight, but its WAY more than that! If someone is having respiratory issues, they need to be on a low carbohydrate diet because the strain on the lung to break down the carbohydrates is too great on the weak lungs. Nutrition can apply to any and every disease, not just obesity! Like I previously said, nutrition is a field that is still being discovered and is not fully understood. This makes people think something is true just by hearing it on the TV or reading it in a magazine. People need to know the truth about what they eat/drink and not only listen to the media, but listen to those professionals who are in the industry, those who are registered dietitians.
Tell us about any academic awards/recognitions/publications you may have achieved:
- Chancellor's List, Spring 2010, 2012, 2013; Fall 2012
- Dean's List, Fall 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013; Spring 2011
- Outstanding Graduate Award, Spring 2013
- East Carolina University Steel Chef Competition Champion, 2013
- Student Dietetic Association Outstanding Member, April 23, 2013
- East Carolina University Student Marshal, 2012
- Student Dietetic Association Volunteer Award, 2011
- Bertrand, B., Kroeger, E., Harman, T., Kruse, K., Harris, N. "Snack Rx: Helping Boys & Girls Club participants "think smart" and "stay strong" and promoting professional skills development for undergraduate dietetics students." Food & Nutrition Conference Expo. Houston, TX, October 2013
- BB&T Leadership Enhancement Grant (2013), Principal Investigator, Transformative leadership in undergraduate nutrition education; $10,000
- ECU post of this problem based learning activity on ECU Now blog (January 23, 2014): http://blog.ecu.edu/sites/poeight/blog/2014/01/23/nutrition-students-develop-their-professional-leadership-styles/
- Kroeger E (2013). Snack Rx at the Boys and Girls Clubs, Pitt County. Vidant Health Foundation Community Benefits Grants Program Focus Meeting, Greenville NC (invited)
What recognition are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of my Outstanding Graduate Award because it was awarded to two students in the May 2013 Nutrition Science graduating class who exemplified top academic success and student involvement. My academic work means a lot to me and knowing the hard work has paid off is something that felt very rewarding!
How do you think your ECU graduate education has helped you?
I think the professors at ECU, especially in my graduate career have opened up doors for me, which have allowed me to grow in ways I couldn't without their help! I recently went to Mexico City, Mexico with my advisor Dr. Brenda Bertrand, and we presented at a nutritionist celebration that was an event put on in order to help the nutritionists in Mexico become registered dieticians while speaking to the crowd full with nutritionists and important Mexican government officials. Seeing how fortunate we are in this country really made me more passionate about helping the medical field along in other countries so that others have access to the nutrition care we have here in the states. This being my first experience getting out of the country, my dreams and goals grew after visiting Mexico and seeing how things are outside of the United States. This is an experience that really made me grow as a person and is one that I would not be able to experience if it wasn't for my wonderful advisor at ECU, I would have never been blessed with such a life changing opportunity!
What would you say to someone considering ECU as a potential graduate school?
Think about it. If you're not willing to dedicate two years of your life to studying and growing, don't do it. If you are ready to embark on an educational experience that will open your mind and make you grow as a person, then this is something that you should definitely do—you won't regret it! The professors at ECU really care about your future and guiding you to reach your career goals. Every opportunity I am offered by my professor is meant to develop my skill set to exactly where I want to end up in the future, a professor at a university. I could write for days all the examples of things my advisor has allowed me to participate in because she knows who I want to be and what I want to get out of the graduate school experience—and I can honestly say I am grateful for the graduate AND undergraduate faculty at ECU.
Hobbies: Running, Organizing & Working on my graduate research
|7:00am-8:00am||Get to campus/Eat breakfast|
|8:00am-8:30am||Reply to 27 emails, one involving immediate attention, which then changes the list of tasks for the day|
|8:30am-9:00am||Lead the Snack Rx weekly meeting|
|9:00am-11:00am||Homework due at 12:30pm|
|11:00am-12:00pm||Graduate Assistant meeting with advisor|
|12:30pm-1:00pm||Class at Minges|
|1:30pm-2:50pm||Graduate Assistant work/lunch while advisor is in class|
|2:50pm-5:00pm||Snack Rx Field trip with class I GA for/ snack on the go|
|5:00pm-6:00pm||Focus group interviews for my graduate research|
|6:00pm-8:30pm||Transcribe focus group interviews/ dinner while transcribing|
|11:00pm-11:30pm||Respond to 27 more emails|
|11:30pm-||Read research articles in bed until I fall asleep|
College & Dept.: Human Ecology, Nutrition Science
Clubs & Organizations: Snack Rx Program Administrator (Vidant Community Benefits Grant), Farmers Market Nutrition Education Coordinator (Pitt County Health Department), Student Dietetic Association (Past Vice-President)
Favorite class: HLTH 6700: Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods
Professor who has influenced you the most: Dr. Brenda Bertrand-- People joke that I am her "mini me."
Dream job: Professor at a research focused university and collaborate my research with the CDC
Reasons for choosing Nutrition Science: The field of nutrition science is so new that a vast amount of research and discoveries are still being made. I have always been into health and wellness so reading magazines and articles on this subject was something I enjoyed doing, but I soon found my interest turning into frustration. I felt like I could never get the facts right, with every article telling me something different, some new research that came out saying this nutrition guideline is better than that or finding out that a nutrition fact you knew all your life and have been abiding by, was only a myth. This made me want to dig deeper than just reading health magazines. I wanted to know the truth about nutrition. Once I started studying nutrition as my undergraduate area of study, I realized that there was so much misguiding information because the field was so new and not yet fully understood. As my knowledge of the field continued to grow, so did my curiosity and when some of the answers weren't there, I knew I wanted to further study this field in order to answer some of my curiosities. As a result, I decided my ultimate goal was to become a researcher/professor at a university, in which a graduate degree is necessary in order to eventually obtain a PhD.
Your words to live by: "Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyways." - Earl Nightingale
Significant life lesson you’ve learned while at ECU: Throughout my undergraduate and graduate career at ECU, I have learned the importance of taking an opportunity and using it as a learning tool. This idea is one that I wish I would have been more aware of earlier in my undergraduate career, when I would complete assignments or sign up for volunteer opportunities in order to benefit from the outcomes (getting good grades and racking up volunteer hours). I think I learned in my senior year of my college career that professors aren't giving you projects so they have something to grade Saturday night. They truly want you to engage in and gain from the experiences they are trying to provide for you. My graduate advisor at ECU is great at giving me projects she knows will provide career-advancing skills. For example, Dr. Bertrand allowed me to help her with the hiring process when they were seeking a new professor in the Nutrition Science Department. Although I could have just gone through the motions and completed the tasks that were assigned, I viewed it as an opportunity to see the process from a behind-the-scenes standpoint. Since my ultimate goal is to be a professor, the opportunity allowed me to see how grueling the hiring process is and hear some feedback that I can apply to when I apply for appointments at universities in the future. Long story short, ECU has taught me to take every task given to you and view it as a learning experience. Don't just accomplish tasks to check them off the list, but use them to learn, grow, and develop.