Tell us about yourself, education, your background, and your current interests.
My name is Angela Luciani and I am 21 years of age. My hometown is York, PA. Presently, I am a junior at Drexel University studying Nutrition and Foods. Drexel offers a co-op program, which offers students the opportunity to spend 6 months out of the school year to gain on-the-job-experience in the student's area of interest. Currently, my co-op cycle runs from April 2012-September 2012. Outside of co-op and the traditional school setting, my other interests include: working out at the gym or running along boathouse row on the Schuylkill River, spending time with friends, and sorority sisters as well as attending various sporting events! In addition, I hold the position of social chair for my sorority Delta Phi Epsilon.
How did you become interested in nutrition?
I was fortunate to grow up in a family that fostered healthy eating. Since I was young, my mom always managed to provide me and my family with well-balanced meals. While I never had a problem cleaning my plate of the fruits or vegetables, I wasn’t aware of how important healthy eating could affect my performance in any type of physical activity or how it would play such a significant role in my future health.
I enjoyed learning about nutrition in my high school cooking class and contemplated majoring in the field. In the summer entering my senior year, I volunteered at my local hospital. I did simple tasks such as help distribute and set up lunches for patients, kept patients company and made sure they were comfortable while they ate. One of the RDs who worked at the hospital knew I was interested in nutrition and allowed me to shadow her for a few visits. It was then that I became more aware of what an RD position involved and realized that it was something that I could see myself doing as a lifetime career.
What did you choose for your co-op experience? Tell us about that experience and something you learned.
As I mentioned, Drexel has a co-op system where students have a full time job for 6 months. Presently, I am working at the Women Infants Children (WIC) office located in Philadelphia, PA. WIC is a Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The experience I have gained here thus far is priceless. Being able to shadow and work with nutritionists and RDs has given me the experience I will need to be able to work with clients of all ages.
The first week I began working there, a nutritionist in-service was scheduled. The in-service session reviewed a wide variety of information including policies and procedures, speakers on breastfeeding, case studies, and nutrition education. While some of the information at the in-service may have been a review for RDs and nutrition professionals, case studies were presented to provide guidance on certain situations that they may have not dealt with before.
The nutrition field is constantly changing. New studies and information are always being presented and it is important to stay informed and educated with the new information.
While WIC does provide checks for food, applicants must meet certain criteria, including nutrition risk. The checks WIC participants receive are limited to purchasing specific foods. One of the great things about WIC is that nutrition education is provided to participants as well, something which I think we can all agree is crucial.
It is interesting to see how many people are not aware of what healthy options are or what proper serving sizes are for a child, or even for themselves. At WIC, it is the nutritionist’s job to educate a participant on ways to encourage healthy eating and why it is important and necessary. When a participant meets with a nutritionist, the nutritionist sets goals so that on the follow-up visit, the nutritionist can discuss with a participant whether or not goals have been met.
I am happy to say many of the participants are interested and concerned about their health and are interested in leading healthier lifestyles. Working for WIC has given me a variety of experiences including nutrition counseling, nutrition education for infants, children and pregnant mothers as well as a way of networking in a professional environment.
You are also interested in sports nutrition. Tell us about that.
Sports have always been an important part of my life. I developed a love for sports at a very young age when I participated on the YMCA soccer team. After being slightly exposed to the world of sports, as I got older, I became involved and played on a variety of other teams ranging from basketball, softball and track to gymnastics and cheerleading. I could never get enough physical activity. When I reached middle school, sports became more and more competitive and in order to be successful at tryouts, I needed to start focusing on sports that I could dedicate more time to in order to excel. With harder practices and more commitment I became aware that a demanding schedule required proper nutrition to fuel my body. However, the only information I was exposed to was from magazines such as Runner’s World, Shape and Women’s Health.
There is a lot of information out there - but I never knew what information actually would show results. I knew the basics of eating pasta the night before a big game but other than that, was not educated enough to make decisions that would enable me to enhance my performance. I knew eating foods that had little nutritional value before a game or practice would make me feel sick half way through but I noticed a difference when I chose healthier options. Our coaches did not have much influence on what we ate and I was never really provided information on what I should eat before or after a practice/game. We were never educated on what our caloric intake should be before a game or the importance of staying hydrated. Personally, I would like to make a difference in the sports nutrition field and implement sports nutrition education to athletes while they are still young so that hopefully it will encourage them to make smarter choices when fueling their body before their workouts or competitions.
I believe right now that there are some coaches and athletes who are not educated on nutrition topics or are misinformed by people who are not professionals in the field. Unfortunately, they are not fully aware of what proper nutrition can do for performance.
What are your professional goals? Once you become a registered dietitian, what kind of work do you want to do?
My goal is to someday become Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and work with athletes. I have always had a passion for sports and would love to be an active representative in the field by educating athletes of all ages. Options might be one on one counseling or group presentations for a sports academy, high-school, college or professional program. Maybe even one day I will open my own practice but I would like to get a lot of experience before that! I hope to pursue a Masters Degree in Exercise Science because I believe that nutrition and exercise go hand in hand. It is important to understand both subjects especially when working with athletes. Having a background in exercise science will also enable me to have more credibility and more understanding which will allow me to work well with whomever I may come in contact.
Although my current setting in WIC does not enable me to gain experience in the sports nutrition field, I am gaining the basic fundamentals in nutrition and working with all ages and races of people that will enhance my knowledge in my future career.
Is there anything else you would like to share with other students?
My advice to share with other students is to be proactive about learning and gaining experience. When seeking a co-op position, be persistent. I have emailed hundreds of RDs in the area hoping to find any opportunity. You never know who you will meet. Almost every professional I have met or emailed was always willing to help me, and if they couldn’t give me an experience at the time, they would instruct me to check back or put me in contact with someone who might be able to help.
In addition, if you are interested in sports nutrition, or a different type of specific nutrition setting, look to see if your school offers any specific courses or that field. Even if you think a course is going to be challenging or “hurt” your GPA, take it. As I said before, taking the sports nutrition class at Drexel was definitely not an easy class. There were at most, 5 undergraduate students and the rest of the class were graduate students. It was definitely an intimidating setting but it was one of the most enjoyable classes I have ever taken and I learned so much! I’m glad I was able to take a class that exposed me to the specific field in my major where I wanted to specialize. This experience gave me an idea of what to expect and made me aware of my strengths and weakness in regards to knowledge and setting goals for what I need to work towards.