URI nutrition student hungry for career as dietitian

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Lincoln resident, Nutrition Club VP, to graduate May 18

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 6, 2008 – As a student at Lincoln High School, Melissa Holmes played soccer and lacrosse and was very conscious about the importance of nutrition and eating right. But it never occurred to her that eating right could lead to a career.

Yet it has. Holmes will graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 18 with a degree in nutrition and dietetics and with a certain pathway to a career as a registered dietitian.

“I started out thinking I was going to be a teacher, but after my first nutrition class I discovered that it was a topic that really interested me,” she said. “It’s something that I can benefit from myself, and with obesity on the rise around the world it’s something that I’m sure I’ll be able to find a job doing.”

Not only did Holmes spend her class time and study time learning about nutrition, she also spent much of her free time learning about it, too.

“As a freshmen we were encouraged to join clubs on campus, and I signed up for the Nutrition Club,” said the URI student who later became the club’s vice president. “It wasn’t a big club, but it seemed perfect to help me meet people in my major and get to interact with the faculty and staff in the department, which is important.”

Holmes helped to grow participation in the Nutrition Club by organizing Thanksgiving food drives, recruiting volunteers for a “Nutrition Fuels Fitness” road race sponsored by the Rhode Island Dietetic Association, publicizing National Hunger Week, and leading a trip for club members to the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show in New York City in March to learn about the food service industry. To qualify to go on the trip, students were required to donate at least 10 cans of food to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. In total, the club contributed 240 pounds of food.

“Not a lot of people are familiar with our discipline and what we do, so these programs help to get our voice out there,” she said.

As her undergraduate education draws to a close, Holmes isn’t relaxing. She is busy applying for an internship that will lead to certification as a registered dietitian.

“It’s a huge process, almost like applying to college all over again,” said Holmes, who achieved Dean’s List honors for academic success several times at URI. “In order to be a registered dietitian you have to go through an internship. They vary from nine months to a year and some, like the URI internship, are combined with a master’s degree program. That’s the one I hope I get.”

The internship gives students an introduction to the wide variety of career choices available to registered dietitians, from meal planning at schools and other large institutions to food management at restaurants, sports nutrition for professional athletes, and personal nutrition counseling.

Holmes works in the dietary department at Rhode Island Hospital – another career option – where she helps plan meals for patients with restrictive diets.

“I like the hospital setting because there is so much variety to the job,” Holmes said, “but it’s also the only setting that I’ve experienced, so I don’t really know where I’ll end up. If I remain in the hospital I could probably move up quickly to become a dietitian, but there are still lots of other options I want to explore. But first I have to get through my internship and pass the dietitian’s exam.”

Given her success to date, it will be a piece of cake.

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.