The program is only a few years old, but USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology students and graduates of the Master of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity (MSNHL) program are already making professional impacts in the dietetics field.
The MSNHL program, launched in January 2015 and designed for students who want to pursue a career in nutrition and dietetics, promotes health and longevity based on scientific evidence, integrating academic study with professional practice experience. Graduates sit for the Registration Examination to become a Registered Dieititan. Program graduates can work in health care facilities, long-term care and supported living environments, tertiary and community hospitals, university and school food service programs, a business involving personal wellness, private practice, scientific research on nutrition’s role in health and longevity, or in policy and advocacy.
The program prepares students to not only become dietitians but also make a difference in the field as a whole, said MSNHL Program Director and USC Davis School Assistant Professor and Coordinated Program Director, Cary Kreutzer, EdD, MPH, RDN, FAND.
Presenting two of only eleven statewide awards to USC MSNHL students, the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation awarded scholarships to Shir Toledano MSNHL ’18 and Narayana Darst MSNHL ’18. Toledano received this year’s Jacqueline Saracino Scholarship and Darst received the Consultant Dieticians Scholarship.
Darst’s dream is to eventually open a private practice as a dietitian, and receiving the Consultant Dietitians Scholarship is a “much-needed boost of confidence” from the California Academy, she said.
“As of now, I plan to specialize in mindful eating, diabetes management, and Binge Eating Disorder treatment, but I know I have so much to learn about private practice and the opportunities available to me in the field of dietetics,” Darst said. “I am so grateful to be starting this journey with so much support and encouragement, and I hope that I am able to serve as a leader on campus and beyond!”
Toledano, who graduated from California State University, Northridge this past year with a Bachelor’s in Nutrition and Dietetics, said she felt “honored and very special” to have received the 2017 Jacqueline Saracino Scholarship.
“My dream was to go to USC and become a dietitian; I want to help others reach optimal health through diet,” Toledano said. “I am so thankful that CAND saw my achievements, dedication, academic and personal growth and awarded me this scholarship. I greatly appreciate being chosen and can’t wait to continue my journey to become a Registered Dietitian.”
Yasmeen Samad MSNHL ’18 published a literature review article in the Vegetarian Nutrition Update newsletter, a publication of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Group. She discussed the potential to address and treat polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, with a vegetarian diet.
“Vegetarian diets have been proven to be beneficial to one’s overall health, and research has shown that following a plant-based diet leads to a decreased risk for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease,” Samad said in the article. “Since the metabolic profile of PCOS is similar to diabetes, exploring dietary patterns that relate to diabetes is essential… Evidence continues to show that transitioning from an omnivorous diet to a plant-based diet is an effective dietary approach for PCOS.”
Samad first become interested in research during her undergraduate program in physiology. As she noticed how many aspects of physiology are shaped by nutrition, her passion for learning how nutrition could prevent or treat specific diseases grew.
“I really hope that I, as well as my colleagues, will have more opportunities beyond graduate school to contribute to the growing research,” Samad said. “Since nutritional research is so dynamic, it is essential to be on top of current recommendations in order to keep up with this field. That’s why I love it!”
In addition to publishing about nutrition research, several students are taking their scientific work on the road and presenting research posters at prestigious conference, Kreutzer said.
“Five of our students were accepted to present posters on their research in the emerging field of nutrigenomics at the International Society of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics in September 2017, and in April we had six students present posters at the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Conference,” she said.
Whitney English Tabaie RD, MSNHL ’17 received the Nutrition Entrepreneurial Professional Development Dietetics Student Award from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Nutrition Entrepreneurial Dietetics Practice Group (NE DPG). As part of the award, Tabaie will attend and volunteer at all NE DPG activities and events and publish an article that highlights her experience with the NE DPG at the Academy’s 2017 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in the group’s quarterly newsletter, Ventures.
Tabaie graduated from the MSNHL program in May 2017 and is now serving as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer in Los Angeles. She also shares recipes and fitness advice on her blog, To Live and Diet in L.A.
“Receiving this award is a tremendous honor for me,” Tabaie said. “My passion for nutrition began as a hobby that has morphed into a career, and I am so grateful and excited to share my knowledge with the world.”
Her advice to future fellow graduates of the MSNHL program: keep an open mind.
“I started the program with every intention of remaining in the media sphere and have come out of it with an interest in private practice and research as well—two fields I intend to pursue,” she said. “The field of nutrition is incredibly diverse, and your career in it can be as well!”