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Melanie Colvin, a second year PHN Master’s student, received a fellowship to work with the Global Food Initiative (within the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources division) on projects related to improving food security and agricultural sustainability. She shared some information about her fellowship with us, and you can read more about Melanie’s position here.
Q: What are your main roles as the GFI fellow?
Melanie: In collaboration with a group of UC researchers, I will be the lead author on a comprehensive report that will propose suggestions for addressing issues related to the intersection of housing insecurity and food insecurity in California.
Q: What specific projects are you focusing on or helping develop?
Melanie: I am writing a report about housing and food insecurity that is both timely for California and one of the first of its kind. Due to the high cost of living, the intersection of housing insecurity and food insecurity is particularly pronounced in California. Those living without a home or with very unstable living accommodations affects an unfortunately large portion of Californians, especially in urban areas.
The goal of circulating this report is to provide a tool for professionals working within UC ANR and externally as a foundation for developing initiatives that combat housing and food insecurity in California to improve the health of Californians. Some features of the report include a literature review, gaps in the literature, case studies in which housing and food insecurity have successfully been addressed together, and next steps.
Q: How has this position influenced your career aspirations once you graduate with an MPH in nutrition? Do you hope to work in a similar field?
Melanie: The experience of creating a piece of writing from scratch with an end goal of widely influencing human health in some fashion is pertinent to my professional goal of being a health disparities researcher. Consistent with this goal, I plan to obtain my PhD after receiving my MPH. My role as a GFI fellow thus far has not been cut and dry with a formula for success—that is not how research projects go. The fellowship provides a space to apply my knowledge and use creativity to problem solve using empirical methods.
Q: Do you have any advice for students who hope to get a position like yours in the future?
Melanie: Think outside the box. Do not be afraid of having no rubric as you do in class. Talk to people, make connections, make your goals clear to those who can help propel you professionally. Speak your mind, be direct with what you can and wish to do with your project, and be the leader you have been trained to be. Do not use fear as an excuse for inaction!
This Fall the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) piloted a new Graduate Certificate in Food Systems, which is available for all students across campus. The Certificate in Food Systems was designed to respond to an escalating need to empower new leaders with the capacity to create innovative solutions to pressing food and agriculture challenges. It prepares graduate students at the master’s and doctoral levels to think critically about the multi-level, multi-system factors that affect food production, distribution, and consumption locally, nationally, and globally.
The required core course for the Certificate, “Transforming Food Systems: From Agroecology to Population Health,” is taught by PHN’s Kris Madsen. The course hosts guest lectures by UC Berkeley’s preeminent food systems scholars and other experts and takes a solutions-oriented approach to addressing the pressing problems in current food systems.
Learn more about the certificate and its requirements here.
In November, the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) held a career panel for undergraduate and graduate students interested in opportunities to work within the food system. Paul Rogé, a lecturer in the College of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM) moderated the panel. Guests included a registered dietitian for the UC Cooperative Extension, an entrepreneur working to reduce food waste, and the Chief Operating Officer at a SF-based soup company, Ladle & Leaf. Guests spoke about their career trajectories into the food system and their challenges and successes along the way.
The second half of the event consisted of a student question and answer session. Panelists offered advice to students who are looking to work within the food system, such as classes to take now and starting with volunteer roles. The event was followed by a networking reception, catered by Oakland-based Reem’s Bakery, a food group that is an alumnus of the La Cocina food incubator program. Berkeley student volunteers aided with food preparation
BFI is a division at UCB whose mission is to transform food systems, improve food access for all, and promote sustainable and equitable food production. Learn more about BFI, including student opportunities and fellowships, at their website.
This past summer, I had the privilege of working at the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA) in Cambodia on a research project exploring the culture around indigenous plants people in Cambodia use as medicine and food. The aim of the project was to investigate how these plants are used, what they are used for and how people believe these impact human health and nutrition.
With an award from the Research and Innovation Fellowship in Agriculture (RIFA) from UC Davis, I was able to conduct this research focusing on five different villages in the northwest province of Siem Reap. I designed a three-part questionnaire and worked with local students at RUA to conduct interviews with healers and villagers in their native language of Khmer. I had the opportunity to witness the preparations of medicinal plant remedies and trek through the jungle to locate and harvest plants for food and medicinal use. Following the data collection and translation, I began synthesizing the findings for a research paper which I am currently finalizing for my degree in Public Health Nutrition.
I ended the summer by attending the 4th annual International Conference on Food Safety and Food Security put on by the Asia Food Safety and Security Association in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was an incredible opportunity to connect with researchers from all over the world who are working on groundbreaking projects in nutrition, food and agriculture.
My summer internship not only allowed me to apply many of the skills I gained from my first year of grad school, it also provided hands-on training in managing an international research project. Perhaps even more profound, it allowed me the opportunity to connect with a community of people and a culture that is different from my own. In these times, we need leaders who understand and demonstrate diplomacy and cultural competency. As I look towards beginning a new career following my graduation in the Spring, I know I will drawn upon the invaluable skills and experiences I gained throughout my summer in Cambodia.
Nutrition Communication and Policy Advocacy in Washington, DC
This past summer I had the privilege to intern for N. Chapman Associates in Washington, DC. N. Chapman Assoc. is a small nutrition communication and advocacy consulting firm that’s been operating for over 30 years. Working in a small group, I was able to contribute to a range of projects. I was also able to participate in advocacy days at both the local and federal level.
From the moment I started in late May, I was incorporated into the team and participated in project ideation and brainstorming. My very first day, I participated in a client conference call and was called upon for my opinion. This immediate inclusion made me feel like part of the team and gave me confidence in what I was able to contribute to the work that was being done.
As a consulting firm there were many projects occurring simultaneously that had diverse requirements. The projects I worked on included:
- Health/nutrition communications packages for a faith-based community organization
- Policy report summaries
- Literature reviews
- Government/political backgrounds
- Cultural Research
- Contribution to nutrition educator/cultural competency trainings
- Handout and worksheet design for the DC SNAP-ed Nutrition Educator Training Toolkit
- Marketing strategy for the Toolkit
- Grant writing process
- Coalition building
- Represent and report on relevant community meetings
The projects I found most interesting occurred in areas where I had little experienced and was pushed to learn quickly. One such project was the marketing strategy for the Nutrition Educator Training Toolkit. I worked on this piece of the project towards the end of the summer and was responsible for proposing the initial strategy to the team. The process of developing a proposal outline incorporated research and problem-solving skills I have cultivated as part of the UC Berkeley MPH program, as well as practical and culturally sensitive information I had learned over the summer. This project also allowed me to think creatively. Combining all of these skills gave me a great perspective for what consulting work would entail and introduced me to a new realm of employment possibilities I hadn’t previously considered.
Lastly, the two lobby days I participated in gave me a much better understanding of the workings of local and federal governments. I learned the importance of connecting with staff members and tailoring the policy information for each politician. These days were exhausting and rewarding because I felt like I had participated in something important, but knew the potential impact was months away. I left DC full of new possibilities and skills and a greater appreciation for the long-term work required to influence policy.
Congratulations to the Public Health Nutrition 2018 graduates! Fifteen students earned their MPH in the ceremony held on May 13, 2018. It was a wonderful celebration of their hard work and incredible achievements over the last two years. We are so proud of what these students have accomplished during their time at UC Berkeley and are excited to see how these new leaders of public health contribute to the field.
On April 29th, Dr. Lia Fernald hosted students and faculty at her home for an end of year potluck and to say goodbye to the graduating second years. This was an opportunity for the students and faculty to catch up with one another and take some time to de-stress from projects, exams and work. As always, everyone enjoyed the delicious food!