Inside the School of Health Sciences’ new nutrition major

Trevor Tyle, Editor-in-Chief

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The Oakland University Board of Trustees (BOT) recently approved a new Bachelor of Science in nutrition.

After a unanimous vote, the BOT opted to replace the current nutrition concentration in the School of Health Sciences (SHS), in which approximately 50 students are currently enrolled, with the new bachelor’s degree program. An additional 80 students are enrolled in the nutrition minor offered at OU, according to Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost James Lentini. 

Since the idea for a nutrition major came to fruition, SHS reported approximately 278 prospective students had expressed interest in it. The new major will provide students with the education necessary to pursue careers in fields such as government, pharmaceuticals, food service, wellness centers, and community and non-profit health organizations, among others.

“The concentration doesn’t really have the breadth of information that students need to know to practice competently in the field,” said Dr. Amanda Lynch, an associate professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Sciences and a registered dietitian.

The decision was the result of both student interest and a need to comply with changing educational and accreditation standards set by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Previously, dietetic technicians needed an associate degree, while dietitians needed a bachelor’s degree and an internship. Since the requirements have shifted, these career paths now require a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, respectively. 

According to Lynch, many OU students pursuing master’s degrees in nutrition have been forced to take a gap year or pay for additional classes because the current concentration doesn’t offer the necessary prerequisites for the master’s program.

Lynch said they are looking to integrate supervised experiential learning into the coursework of the new program, allowing them to move away from standalone internships.

“That seems to be a barrier in getting students through these programs, and they actually don’t have as many internships as they have graduating students,” she said. “So, by working these experiential learning opportunities into the classroom, it creates a more efficient system.”

One of these potential opportunities would be a food science lab, which Lynch hopes can happen through a collaboration with Rochester Community Schools to utilize one of the schools’ kitchens. She said the school district is “really excited” about the idea and expressed hopes that such a partnership could also increase local high school students’ interest in OU as an option for postsecondary education.

“Those students don’t really consider Oakland necessarily as a place to go,” Lynch said. “They want to go away to college, and they don’t really think about Oakland. But if they can see college students taking classes, or we can have our undergraduates do some nutrition education with them, they might be able to see, ‘Oh, I can do this kind of stuff at Oakland,’ and kind of expand their ideas of where they can go to school.”

In SHS’ initial program proposal to the BOT, the school also emphasized that it would help fulfill the third goal of University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz’s 2025 strategic plan — community engagement.

“Several courses will involve deep community engagement and/or service learning projects contributing to OU’s commitment to be recognized as a community-engaged campus,” Lentini said.

According to SHS Dean Kevin Ball, Ph.D., they hope to implement this goal through a potential partnership with the Auburn Hills Community Center.

“If we don’t eat, if we don’t eat good food, if communities don’t have good food to eat, then wellness and health falters,” he said. “Rather than spending money on a laboratory, we’ve got a laboratory — it’s down the street, in the community.”

The new degree is expected to be accredited by 2022 and will include 10 new courses, including food science, food service, management, community and public health nutrition, education, communication and clinical nutrition. 

Current students in the health science nutrition degree program will be able to enroll in the new nutrition major at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. 

For more information or to read the entire nutrition major proposal, visit the BOT website.