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By Felicia Krieg
As the popularity of healthy eating and fitness continues to rise nationwide, a top-ranked academic program at SUNY Plattsburgh is attracting students and attention to match.
“It (nutrition) is becoming more mainstream as far as a role in health and in the treatment and prevention of disease,” said Jorunn Gran-Henriksen, associate professor and chair of the dietetics and nutrition department.
SUNY Plattsburgh’s nutrition program was ranked 14th best in the country for 2015 by publichealthonline.org, a website that provides information about academic degree options and careers in health. It has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics for decades.
In a strategic move facilitated by Dr. Michael Morgan, dean of arts and sciences, the nutrition program became a free-standing department at the beginning of the fall 2015 semester. It was previously affiliated with the nursing department.
“Both our programs are growing and we overlapped, but there are many things that have become separate. It reached a point where it made sense,” Gran-Henriksen said of forming the new department.
In addition to the number of students selecting a nutrition major at SUNY Plattsburgh, the amount declaring a minor in nutrition is also on an upswing, Gran-Henriksen said.
Job opportunities for those with degrees in nutrition are expanding as is the diversity of students majoring in nutrition at SUNY Plattsburgh.
Historically a women-dominated field, nutrition is becoming more popular with male students. About 24 percent of the 90 nutrition majors at SUNY Plattsburgh are men.
Aspiring dieticians receive a knowledge-based education at Plattsburgh and can then apply for an intensive internship program they need to become certified dieticians. Many students choose to apply in their senior year.
While the program’s main goal is to develop registered dieticians, students can also choose other careers paths. Nutrition majors sometimes become registered dietetic technicians, for example, Gran-Henriksen said.
To gain hands-on experience while in college, senior nutrition majors can participate in field practicums, for which they receive academic credit. The program requires five hours of clinical work each week and can be completed during the academic semester or winter break.
There are a variety of specialized areas from which students can select their practicum concentration.
“We place them where they would like to get experience,” Gran-Henriksen said.
Students have completed practicums at the Clinton County Health Department, Town of Plattsburgh Recreation Department, local nursing homes, University of Vermont Health Network, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh and Clinton County’s chapter of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, a collaborative organization that focuses on 4-H youth development, nutrition, horticulture and agriculture.
At least half of nutrition majors also supplement their classroom and clinical education with volunteering experiences.
As part of the SUNY Plattsburgh Student Nutrition Association, student volunteers help run after-school programs, food drives and fundraisers that benefit research for widespread diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Students also take educational trips like their excursion in September 2015 to Keene Central School to work in a garden-to-cafeteria program. The students worked in the garden there and learned about composting and gardening education for children.
The outing also included a tour of the Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay, N.Y. and a trip to the Essex County farmer’s market where the group learned about local farming procedures and community-supported agriculture.
As its student base widens, the department’s faculty are looking for new ways to educate students.
Faculty members are in the process of developing a sports nutrition class and an internship within the nutrition department itself, Gran-Henriksen said.
“We’re all looking to the future, how to (best) position ourselves,” she said.
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