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Jennings’ research in the Master of Nutrition program propelled her interest in incorporating scholarship with a career as a Registered Dietitian.
Laurel Jennings’ devotion to public health led her to Mason to better understand how the food system can impact social justice and health equity. She found the coursework and research opportunities at Mason to support and propel her goal of educating others on the power of micronutrients and how vitamins and minerals can aid disease prevention. As she graduates with a Master of Science in Nutrition degree in May 2022, she shares how she discovered an interest in research and how it will improve her future work as a dietitian.
“I am passionate about the pursuit of social justice in the food system, and I believed that an education at Mason would prepare me to meet the diverse demands of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” said Jennings. “As Mason prepares new health professionals to conduct innovative research to better domestic and global public health, I sought out this opportunity in the preparation of transforming nutrition interventions at all population levels.”
At Mason, Jennings’ aspirations for working in health equity and social justice were met and even exceeded with research opportunities that allowed her to have a role in strengthening public health.
Jennings began in the Master of Public Health program, but she transitioned into the Master of Nutrition program when she realized the program better aligned with her career interests. She soon became a graduate research assistant (GRA) to Raedeh Basiri, assistant professor of Nutrition, to help progress Basisri’s research on individualized nutrition therapy and type 2 diabetes. The opportunity gave Jennings insight into how to design research, apply for grants, conduct human studies, and conduct her own research for publication.
“I completed the process of submitting our protocols to Mason’s Institutional Review Board and the Institutional Biosafety Committee. I also completed the clinical trials application and worked rigorously to develop our questionnaires [for research participants],” Jennings said.
The experience of working with Basiri inspired Jennings to pursue her own research project. With Basiri’s supervision, Jennings wrote a review paper on the relationship between amino acids, B vitamins, and choline to study how they may influence Autism Spectrum Disorder. In April, Jennings’ research resulted in her winning a 2022 Celebration of Scholarship award.
Jennings said that the opportunities she obtained in the Master of Nutrition program grew her interest in pursuing research in her future career.
“A career goal of mine is to work directly with micronutrients, as they relate to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and to improve disease outcomes,” said Jennings. “Coming into the program, I intended to do this solely through a clinical focus, but after my GRA position and coursework, I’ve found the importance of research. Although I still hope to focus on clinical dietetics, my MS degree program has influenced my interests in incorporating research in my career.”
When asked what others should know about Mason’s Nutrition program, Jennings spoke about the value that the Nutrition Department’s teachers and staff provide. “I experienced a positive and encouraging environment at Mason, where peers and teachers aimed to assist my learning and provide me with constructive feedback,” Jennings said. “This was essential in my learning processes and improving my work without discouraging me.”
After graduating with her master's degree in nutrition, Jennings will attend North Carolina Central University in August to pursue the Future Education Model Dietetics Certificate Program.