The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded California State University, Northridge’s College of Health and Human Development a $1 million, four-year grant to support undergraduate and graduate students and enhance their education experience as they prepare for careers as registered dietitians.
The grant, from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is being used to create an “educational pathway” for students from community college through graduate school. The grant is aimed at preparing the next generation of the nation’s nutrition workforce, which includes learning the skills needed to provide lactation support to new mothers.
“The goal is to prepare culturally diverse registered dietitian nutritionists who are prepared to support people throughout their lifespan, beginning with optimal nutrition, breastmilk, at infancy,” said CSUN health sciences associate professor Merav Efrat, who joined with Annette Besnillian, director of CSUN’s Marilyn Magaram Center for Food Science, Nutrition and Dietetics, to apply for the grant. “The students who go through the program will definitely have the skills employers of registered dietitians are looking for.”
The program, Pathways to Success as Registered Dietitians, is a collaborative effort between the Magaram Center, CSUN’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and Department of Health Sciences, Los Angeles Mission College, and several USDA agencies, including the California Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program. CSUN is the only university in the country with a WIC satellite office on campus.
Besnilian said the project targets culturally diverse students from underserved communities who may not have realized that becoming a registered dietitian was a career option or may have encountered challenges in reaching their career goals.
The students who go through the program, she said, will be mentored by faculty and peers to ensure that they successfully complete all the accredited nutrition and dietetics requirements to get an internship in the field of dietetics and get comprehensive training in lactation education, as well as take advantage of opportunities for research, leadership and experiential learning at the Magaram Center or in the community.
“What is really unique about this program is that we are starting with the students from the beginning,” she said. “The outreach starts while they are in high school. They are going to get mentoring while in high school, and mentoring and support while they are at Mission College. When they get here to CSUN, they will know what they have to do to graduate and will have the support to succeed.”
Efrat said the goal of the lactation component of the program, is to expand the current lactation education curriculum to enable the next generation of dietetic professionals to be better prepared to support breastfeeding.
“The students who go through the program will benefit from a comprehensive, two-course sequence in lactation education, along with experiential learning opportunities in the community,” she said. “This training will position CSUN as a leader in lactation education nationally, and will prepare CSUN dietetic students to integrate lactation education into their future careers.”
Pathways to Success presents multiple student support services and curricular enhancements across Mission College and CSUN to increase recruitment, retention and graduation of underrepresented students.
The program’s components include outreach to local high schools; academic and transfer support for community college students; comprehensive lactation education training; research opportunities in nutrition for undergraduate students; and undergraduate and graduate student dietetics fellowships.
Efrat and Besnillian noted that Mission College students taking prerequisite courses for CSUN’s undergraduate nutrition program will have access to extensive tutoring support, as well as comprehensive advisement services to help them successfully navigate the transfer process and enroll in CSUN’s nutrition and dietetics program.
The fellowships will include scholarships, advisement, professional development and leadership training, as well as opportunities for the undergraduates to have mentors for the undergraduates and for the graduate students to serve as mentors.
“By enhancing student support services, expanding educational offerings and increasing access to professional training and opportunities in nutrition and lactation,” Besnilian said, “the Pathways to Success program will contribute to development of a diverse and highly qualified food, nutrition and agriculture workforce — and improve nutrition and breastfeeding rates for better public health outcomes.”