Merze Tate Explorers discover cooking with STEM with WMU nutrition and dietetics program

Contact: Dr. Arezoo Rojhani

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Young women from the Merze Tate Explorers (MTE) joined Western Michigan University students from the Student Dietetic Association (SDA) this semester to discover cooking with STEM. The two sessions took place in the Kohrman Hall food lab on Western’s campus. The sessions represent one of five service projects the SDA has been involved in during the 2022-23 academic year. 

During the first session, MTE participants were exposed to the profession of dietetics through several hands-on activities using science, technology, engineering and math. One included proper procedures for measuring ingredients by visually showing how inaccuracies may arise when using incorrect measuring utensils and another included a food label reading activity complete with door prizes. The highlight of the day was a presentation from Kelli Cortez, a dietitian who spoke to the attendees about the profession of dietetics. All MTE participatns received an SDA T-shirt, an apron with the WMU logo and “Merze Tate Explorer,” along with copies of recipes they made in the lab.

SDA President Antonia Vitale demonstrates how to cook a meal using the MyPlate food groups.

The second session included a short video about the profession of dietetics which included examples of settings where dietitians work and an interactive activity involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate food groups. The day concluded with the MTE writing a short reflection on what they had learned.

Dr. Arezoo Rojhani, director of the undergraduate program in nutrition and dietetics in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and faculty advisor for the SDA, explained that the days were initiated as part of Project SOAR. Project SOAR is a mini grant provided to the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (MiAND) and partner Michigan higher education schools like WMU from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to increase awareness about careers in the field of nutrition and dietetics. The purpose of these activities was to increase awareness of the dietetics profession among students of color.

Historically, dietetics has been a predominantly white female profession. Based on available data, 80% of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) practicing in the United States identify as white. There are only 3% Black and 6% Hispanic/Latino dietitians in the U.S.

“We are hoping to change that by exposing young women of color to career opportunities in this important allied health field,” says Rojhani. “Ample published data supports the notion that dietary advice resonates more with clients when it is culturally relevant. Who is more qualified to give dietary advice to an elderly client of Mexican descent with heart disease: a white dietitian or a Latina or Latino dietitian who is more intimately familiar with the Mexican food preparation and can suggest strategies that can be employed to lower saturated fat in cherished recipes?”

The MTE shared, “A big, yummy 'Thank You' goes to WMU for their recent STEM food fun program designed especially for the Explorers,” in one of their newsletters following the event.

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