The students of MSU Denver’s nutrition program have many questions and concerns. It can be hard to know if you’re on the right track, or if you’ve chosen the right degree program. Perhaps the best way to find answers is to ask those who have been there. Sarah Ziherl graduated from MSU Denver’s Human Dietetics and Nutrition Program in the fall of 2014. While at MSU Denver, she served as a board member to the Auraria Campus Student Dietetics Association (ACSDA) and was the webmaster and social media manager of the club's website and Facebook page. These are her thoughts on earning a degree in nutrition.
ACSDA: So, you’ve got your bachelors of science in human dietetics and nutrition…how do you feel?
Sarah: Excited, nervous, relieved, and proud - a little bit of everything. I definitely feel a bit heavy hearted to part ways with peers and professors I’ve grown fond of. Although, it’s neat to think that our paths may cross again as colleagues in the near future.
ACSDA: Why did you choose to pursue a degree in nutrition?
Sarah: My work at a small, family-owned, running shop served as the catalyst for my passion in nutrition.
I met a variety of customers working as a sales associate. While a few were training for the Olympics, most were weekend warriors or former couch-potatoes, looking to better their health. I often made casual conversation by asking: `What are your training goals?’ It was a simple question requiring a brief answer, yet it often prompted a personal narrative. Customers disclosed diet and lifestyle choices, medical diagnoses, and even emotional struggles with food and body image.
It was eye opening to hear the discrepancy between intentions and actions. Many wanted to live healthy, but chose routines of inactivity and fast food. I don’t recall saying anything exceptionally insightful, only listened and nodded with an empathic ear.
Over the course of three years, I found these interactions to be the most enjoyable part of my work. Their conversations were raw and honest expressions of successes and failures in fitness and weight loss. Even after I took an administrative role with my company, I made time to coach customers over the phone and email.
I found I had a passion for translating and communicating nutrition topics in an approachable and relatable way. With great care and consideration, I chose to expand my knowledge by enrolling in a nutrition program to pursue a career as a registered dietitian.
ACSDA: Did you apply for a dietetic internship? Did you receive a dietetic internship?
Sarah: I applied for an internship in the Fall 2014 match. I was matched with Iowa State University Distance Dietetic Internship, to start January 2015.
ACSDA: What is the best piece of internship related advice you could give to an underclassman in this degree program?
Sarah: The best piece of advice I received was from a former student, Meggan Estabrook. If she ends up reading this blog she’s going to think i’m crazy, but her words have stuck with me to this day. She said “if you really want an internship, you will get it. But, you have to want it 100%” It has become my mantra through this process - “I want this!” - which has helped me through uncomfortable situations, like cold-calling preceptors or asking for references. I think you just have to go into this whole process knowing that you put in the work and effort to deserve the internship.
ACSDA: Do you have a previous degree? What area of study was it in? Did it help you with this degree?
Sarah: Like many in our program, I took a non-traditional path in my pursuit of a dietetics degree. I originally graduated with a BA in International Affairs from American University, in Washington D.C. (2009). As a teen, I had traveled internationally quite a bit through the Rotary Exchange program and my intent was to continue to work in this field. But after graduation, I struggled with the transition from student to professional, and lacked the maturity to find work in a market saturated with new grads.
Luckily, my ‘college job’ at a small, family-owned, running shop took me on full time to help out around store. In the tightly knit industry, I made quite a few connections that helped me make the big move out to Colorado. I continued to work in run specialty, transitioning from floor sales to ecommerce and online content management.
My first degree, coupled with a few years of work, helped me realize that showing up for class is just a small part of the ‘ higher eduction experience.’ It is just as important to network with peers and professionals, job-shadow, volunteer, and develop your name/niche in the field from the start.
ACSDA: What is your dream job? Why?
Sarah: What a great question! I think it changes every day. I’m reading this book now by Helen W. Lane, PhD, RD, called Nutrition in Spaceflight and Weightlessness Models. As the Chief Nutritionist at NASA, she writes about her last 20 years of research studying the unique nutritional needs of astronauts in space. What a cool job!
Sarah is planning to blog through her internship experience, for those of you interested in following, it can be found at http://www.sarahziherl.com/blog/.