Melanie W. Duffrin, Professor, Department of Nutrition Science
Why did you choose this profession/field?
My passion for cooking and interest in food service management led my academic interest to focus on Nutrition and Dietetics. It wasn’t until I was 28 and working in a hospital setting that I discovered my passion for teaching. Our hospital often accepted interns and I was assigned an undergraduate student intern for a 5-week field experience. Having a student around was so much fun. I knew immediately I needed to go back to school and get a PhD in Education so I could learn more about how people learn.
Describe your teaching philosophy.
I believe teaching requires that both the student and teacher are in the moment together. The ideal learning environment is a place where the students and teacher leave everything else behind for the time they spend together. That moment in time should be a place that is calm, safe, and comforting for the learner. I try to convey to my students that I am in the moment by being prepared for class, being friendly, and taking the time to ask my students how they are doing. At the beginning of a semester, I take time to do “get to know you” activities so students can begin to feel comfortable with me and the students around them. I want students to have an environment that they can make decisions about their learning experience and feel as if they are able to make mistakes and learn from them. I also encourage students to work with others and develop productive relationships. My goal is for their environment to feel secure so they can explore and learn with self-directed activities that create critical thinking, questioning, reasoning, and problem solving skills. Students also need an environment outside of the classroom to engage in learning with mentees, peers, and mentors including senior students, professionals and faculty. Faculty guided research, project-based, service learning, and team activities that take place outside of the classroom are the best opportunities for providing a safe learning environment that allows for interpersonal communication practice, mistakes, and questions. Students often learn more from my research organizational infrastructure and how mentors handle work situations than from formal instruction. It is difficult to achieve that level of learning impact in a structured classroom environment.
What are your current research interests?
My research interests focus on using food as a tool to teach mathematics and science in K-12 formal and informal learning environments. In 1999, the FoodMASTER Initiative was established and subsequently funded by the National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award in 2005-Current. Information about the FoodMASTER initiative can be found at www.foodmaster.org
Have you involved your students in your research?
Yes. Nutrition Science undergraduate and graduate students are involved with FoodMASTER Initiative research on many different levels. Our research group typically maintains two graduate assistant researchers and two undergraduate assistant researchers. Most often, students begin working with the FoodMASTER initiative through volunteer opportunities made available in the food science lab. The FoodMASTER initiative also provides infrastructure for a wide variety of formal and informal service learning opportunities for students with K-12 students and teachers across the State of North Carolina.
What changes do you see on the horizon in your discipline?
Over the next ten years, Bachelor’s level programs in Nutrition Science will need to ensure the graduates are prepared to enter graduate schools because individuals wanting to become Registered Dietitians will be required to have a Masters Degree. Practical experience, GRE preparation, graduate school application preparation, undergraduate research courses, and undergraduate research projects are strategies to help students become prepared for what they will experience in graduate school.
How would you describe the academic environment at ECU?
East Carolina University is a diverse institution not only in the student population but in the faculty and staff populations as well. There are a variety of students from different backgrounds with different academic goals. Similarly, there are faculty members who have a wide variety of interests with which students can chose to become involved. Students can actively pursue opportunities in clinical or social research, teaching, community outreach, professional engagement, or a variety of other arenas. Students can grow as a person and professional by becoming engaged with their passion and interest. This is the strength of the environment and faculty at East Carolina University. These experiences, combined with a sound core of academic knowledge, are what will develop each student into the expert professional of the future. Students graduating from East Carolina University will have a broad and comprehensive knowledge base coupled with the ability to solve problems, communicate, and be a leader.
How do you know you’ve been successful in teaching?
In the short-term, I know I have been successful in teaching based on the quality of my students’ performance in communicating both written and orally. This includes questions they ask, conversations with peers and faculty, exams, presentations, papers, and other assignments. Long-term indicators of success are employment in the field of study, acceptance into dietetic internships, acceptance into graduate school, and demonstrated service to the profession and community.
What advice do you have for prospective and current graduate students at ECU?
Oral and written communication skills, critical thinking, problem solving, and clinical skills, along with the development of leadership and management skills are important for our students as they progress in their studies and careers.
Teaching and Scholarly Interests: Subject areas I enjoy teaching are food science and foods management along with community nutrition which includes project planning, grant writing, and research. I also enjoy teaching students professional skills such as resume writing, interviewing, professional dress, and presenting. Project-based and hands-on learning are my favorite methods of teaching. My scholarly interests are formal and informal science learning environments and evaluation of factors that impact student academic performance.
One of your proudest professional accomplishments: Student success is the most important achievement for me professionally. Over the years, numerous FoodMASTER Initiative students have presented graduate and undergraduate research, published peer-review articles, and won research awards. Many former students have also gone on to prestigious internship locations, and several have gone to other universities to work on earning PhDs. Currently, 4 former students work as university faculty. I am proud of all my students who work hard to achieve their individual goals.
Course I currently teach at ECU
Food Science: NUTR 2330
Food Science Lab: 2331
Nutrition Education and
Counseling: NUTR 3535
Independent Study: NUTR 6100
Review of the Current Literature:
Seminar in Nutrition: NUTR 6950
Thesis: NUTR 7000
Courses I have taught in the past at ECU
Nutrition Science: NUTR 2105
Nutrition Research Methodology
Lab: NUTR 3501
Community Nutrition: NUTR 4500
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). 1997-Current.
North Carolina Dietetic Association. 2005-Current.
Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. 2002-Current.
Pediatric Healthy Weight Associate. 2005-Current.
East Carolina University Diabetes and Obesity Institute Affiliate. 2014-Current.
Institute for Food Technology (IFT). 2000-2002. 2010-2012.
National Science Teachers Association. 2007-2012.
Faculty Member Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society. 2005-2009.
Eastern North Carolina Dietetic Association. 2005-2006.
Society for Nutrition Education. 2004-2005.
Mid-Ohio Dietetic Association. 2002-2005.
Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association. 2002-2005.
ADA Dietetic Educators of Practitioners (DEP). 2000.
Ohio Dietetic Association (OD). 1997-2005.
American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN). 1998-2000.
Fun Fact About Yourself: I can juggle