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What Diet?: Dietetic Students Teach Community How to Eat Healthier


Jessie Oliver (left) and Tamara Vitale        Jessie Oliver (left) and Tamara Vitale at the Health and Nutrition Expo.
Patrick Shepherd, senior dietetics student       Patrick Shepherd, senior dietetics student, presents his research on cancer-causing vegetables at the Health and Nutrition Expo.
More times than not, poor eating habits bring low self-esteem, high blood pressure, weight gain and the resulting never-ending question about whether to start a diet this Monday or the next.

USU Dietetics students say skip the diet question completely — start eating healthy not only this coming Monday, but today and every day!

Students in the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at USU plan, promote and present an annual Health and Nutrition Expo for USU students, faculty and community. This spring, students chose to concentrate on teaching people that there are no magic diets, no magic foods and no magic supplements to learning how to eat healthy.

The expo is part of the Advanced Dietetics Practicum class. Senior dietetics students are taught in-depth ways to plan and carry out events, while learning principles for research and teaching. Seniors students also mentor junior Dietetics students as they help with booths and present food demonstrations.

Tamara Vitale, USU Dietetics clinical associate professor, said the expo not only gives students the opportunity to show off their research findings, but it also gives them the hands-on experience they will need in the real world for event planning and teaching methods.

Vitale approximated there were 1,700 people who attended the 2008 expo. The attendees could learn from a variety of booths sponsored by USU Dietetics students, USU clubs, community vendors and health professionals.

Junior Dietetics students participated in the expo through food demonstrations. Every 10 minutes samples of delicious snacks were offered to whet the appetites of the participants and to encourage the idea that healthy eating is easy, fun and appetizing.

Patrick Shepherd, senior Dietetics student, could be seen at his booth concentrating on cancer-causing vegetables. He wore a breastplate made from carrots and mushrooms, shields of squash and a headdress made of a variety of vegetables. His diet “secret” was that the vegetables people don’t eat are the only cancer-causing ones. Students like Shepherd learned fun and exciting ways to present their research and also answer questions.

“People have questions we have to know how to answer,” said Nicole Beuhler, a senior Dietetics student. “We need to research topics aside from our primary presentation. We want to help people learn all aspects of our topic.”

Beuhler said she never thought she would need to learn advertising and communication skills to work as a dietitian. She now feels that planning for the expo taught her a variety of skills she will use in her future career.  

According to Vitale, the Service Learning Program at USU encourages hands-on learning by giving credit and recognition to students participating in applied learning courses and projects throughout campus. The expo gives the Service Learning Program a perfect example of how students should be getting involved in hands-on learning.

“The Health and Nutrition Expo is an excellent way for students to gain confidence in their knowledge about nutrition,” said Vitale. “It also gives them experience in qualities that employers value — communication skills, teamwork skills, flexibility and adaptability, analytical skills, motivation and many more.”

Vitale said the qualities students learn while planning the expo are not typically included on exams, but they are qualities asked about in job interviews and reference checks. It is easier to recommend a student for a job if she sees them in action. Through this practice, students are able to gain confidence and competence in other aspects of their field of study.

“The expo provides practice in many skills,” said Vitale. “The students develop nutrition-related materials and activities. They plan, market, organize, form sub-committees and maintain a budget. They also obtain a temporary food handler’s permit from the Health Department and make sure all regulations are followed.”

Jessica Draper, a senior in Dietetics, concentrated on contacting booth vendors. She also helped design a time-management tool used to keep every aspect of the expo on track, as well as researching her own topic on organic foods. The main goal of her presentation was to get people thinking about organic foods and the impacts they can have, good or bad, on health, the environment and a college student’s budget.

“I had no idea how hard it was to plan an event,” said Draper. “When I helped plan the expo, I realized how every little detail mattered. A topic such as mine can cause some controversy, and you have to be prepared with answers.”

Vitale explained that students take it upon themselves to promote the event the best way they can. Students write press releases and design posters, among other promotional tools they use. They are encouraged to work with broadcast groups and newspapers throughout the community to promote the event.
The work isn’t all finished when the final presentation is given at the end of the expo. Students are required to write a one-page reflection paper describing what they felt the pros were, what they could have done better and what the new roles they took on. The papers are used to help future students planning the event.

“This year’s expo was a great success,” said Vitale. “All the students work hard and see it pay off in the end. I never cease to be amazed as it all comes together.”

Writer: Ben Hibshman
April 2008

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