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Major: Nutrition and Dietetics
Pediatric Research Dietitian
Choosing a Major
When she came to Messiah, Karen Willis had no problem selecting a course of study - she knew she wanted "something I was already interested in as an athlete (nutrition) and something that had a strong base of natural sciences." Along with suiting her interests, she felt that the versatility of the nutritional field would provide a wide variety of vocational paths: "whether in relation to disease management or helping athletes obtain their goals, I knew I could be helping others as a dietician."
The Messiah Experience
In the same way that they inspired her choice of major, Karen's personal interests also shaped her involvement with the college and surrounding community. She attributes her well-rounded college experience to her involvement with the women's soccer team, as team commitments challenged her academic schedule yet kept her involved in campus life. She also connected with her field of study as an active member of the Nutrition Committee club, which provided "opportunities to promote nutrition and health awareness and volunteer in the community" by teaching nutrition classes at a community center. She observes, "I was always happy serving and/or educating those that may not have the same resources that I always took for granted," and when she wasn't busy on the soccer field or in the classroom, she tutored inner city youth and volunteered with Soccer in the City, a Harrisburg ministry program in which members of the men's and women's soccer teams played soccer with city youth.
Karen values the critical thinking skills she developed at Messiah, maintaining that they are "essential, every day - from deciphering the scientific research to communicating a decision in clinical practice to the physician writing orders on my patients." More specifically, the scientific background and nutrition courses provided by her field of study, as well as the writing skills cultivated in general courses, have proven invaluable in Karen's vocation. Without them, she concludes, "I would not have been prepared for my career."
Karen considers "having a heart for each patient I see, seeing healing in not just a physical sense but also spiritually and emotionally" as the ultimate focus of her vocation, and she credits Messiah for instilling in her the desire to serve. She had "always felt called to pursue nutrition in the mission field setting," and her senior year J-term course, "Health Care in Developing Countries" with Dr. Phil Thuma, helped her recognize that "God was leading me to explore service in areas of malnutrition, poverty, and disease-stricken Sub-Saharan Africa." The initial exposure subsequently inspired her graduate school experience studying Nutrition and Tropical Medicine in Zambia.
What to Do Next
After college, Karen decided to combine the required one year dietetic internship/national certification program with a Master's degree at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. In a two year program she was able not only to complete the clinical internship that qualified her to be a registered dietitian but also to bolster her education "by taking advantage of their international nutrition program offerings."
A Typical Day
Find out how other Messiah grads work with children in their career:
Profile by Tiffany DeRewal, May 2006