When I arrived at Virginia Tech as a freshman (2005!), it was to become an engineer. My mom wanted me to be a Civil Engineer, but I was more thinking Biomedical. Long story short, I had applied early admission to VT's School of Engineering, showed up to my first two math classes, decided I now hated math and dropped the major within the first week. Just long enough to buy all that expensive software :)
The main reason I switched was because I wanted to pursue a career that more closely reflected the healthy lifestyle I was also striving for. Yes, it was against the grain of what my parents wanted for me. Yes, I was also going through a huge rebellious phase. More importantly though, the decision served as a pivotal moment in my life in realizing the importance of following my passion and intuition. I switched majors to Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (HNFE), originally with the intention of becoming a physical therapist, but that somehow that later evolved into me joining the dietetics program.
The dietetics option at Virginia Tech is definitely not all fun with food. It's a pretty rigorous course load with a heavy background in science and you have to maintain a 3.0 to stay in the program. I have to say though, the instructors and professors are top notch, all very knowledgable, inspiring and passionate about the field. If I wasn't sure about whether I wanted to be an RD at the beginning of the program, I was definitely 100% certain by the end!
Course work in the first 2 years were geared towards building a foundation of scientific knowledge and general nutrition. Classes included Anatomy, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Accounting and Statistics. Nutrition classes included Introduction to Nutrition, Nutrition Across the Lifespan, Professional Dietetics. I was definitely not a model student in my first two years! Not only did I barely scrape by with a C in Professional Dietetics, I skipped my Physics final (still managed a C somehow) and made the mistake of dropping out of Biochemistry after two weeks (out of fear of failing). Due to course progression/pre-requisites, my impulse decision to drop Biochemistry set me back an entire year ... Again, oops!
The latter years of undergrad were more specialized to the field including courses in: Metabolic Nutrition (two rigorous semesters), Food Service Management, Food Selection and Preparation, Communicating with Foods, Medical Nutrition Therapy (also two challenging semesters), Community Nutrition and Science of Foods.
Above all things, our program really emphasized leadership and professionalism. We were encouraged to become members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics from the get-go and to attend professional conferences and network with RD's in the field. We created extensive online portfolios (which I still utilize and update) to demonstrate our knowledge, experience and technology skills and market ourselves for jobs. I highly recommend creating an electronic portfolio if you're in college, no matter your major! Since I had an engineering-technology background, I really took to this project and even learned a little bit of HTML/CSS. This initiated my interest in web-based programming and eventually lead to the creation of this blog! Yay!
Gaining leadership/work experience (clockwise from top left): Packing bags of fresh produce for the Micah's Backpack program, I was the "fruit fairy" for a healthy kids halloween event, picking fresh herbs at VT's Kentland Farms (to be used in dining halls) and serving as a Food Service Tech at a local hospital.
Senior year is typically dedicated to finishing coursework, identifying and preparing for internships. However, since I had fallen behind a year, I took a slightly different path and chose to pursue my master's degree as part of a combined undergrad-master's program. Basically, I started my graduate coursework my senior year (5th year). It's a great program at Virginia Tech offers and I highly recommend it to anyone able to do so. Completing my master's degree as a dietitian has been invaluable and it's MUCH easier done right away!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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