CALS graduate student Amanda Draut and fellow Kannapolis Scholars host conference to improve communication about childhood obesity.
N.C. State University graduate student Amanda Draut has made great strides toward the career she describes as “a food product developer with a nutritional spin,” since she arrived at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She entered the master’s degree program in the CALS Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences (FBNS) two years ago with a goal of learning “how to deliver nutritionally beneficial food products that taste delicious to the people that need them,” she says. It was in this pursuit that she became a student in Dr. Keith Harris’ nutraceuticals andfunctional food course, which led to her position coordinating the Kannapolis Scholars Program at the North Carolina Research Campus.
That position gave Draut many leadership opportunities, one of which has been her role in organizing “Lost in Translation: A Conversation in Childhood Obesity,” a day-long conference held this past summer.
“The Kannapolis Scholars Program brings a group of graduate students together who are studying fields related to food and health from a pool of eight different universities,” Draut explains. “Students spend two summers at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, participating in activities such as personality inventories, journal clubs, seminars and a collaborative effort to organize a final program conference all while benefitting from the amazing laboratories located there to do research towards their master’s or doctorate. The purpose of the program is to train students from a transdisciplinary perspective, meaning that they have an in-depth knowledge of their area of interest, but they also encounter other disciplines that can be incorporated into their thought process as they encounter research problems.”
Of the 13 scholars who have participated in the program, there have been majors as varied as nutritional biochemistry, psychology, horticulture, animal science and bioinformatics, Draut adds. Among participants are her fellow N.C. State students Christine Bradish, a member of the first group of Kannapolis Scholars and CALS master’s student in horticultural science, and second-year Kannapolis Scholar Josie Drayton, a CALS master’s student in animal science.
“These students can deeply benefit from discussing their research projects with one another and learning through these interactions,” says Draut. “The hope is that these interactions will make them more creative and have more perspective when thinking about complex issues related to food and health.”
Part of the requirement of the students in the Kannapolis Scholars Program is that they work on a collaborative group project during their second summer in Kannapolis, she says. “This turned into a final conference that would highlight the transdisciplinary nature of the program.”
The group chose childhood obesity as the topic, because it involved the best common thread among the scholars in the first class, Draut says.
As for the title “Lost in Translation,” she says, “There are plenty of conferences about the topic of childhood obesity, but we really wanted ours to be about the communication breakdown between the groups who create the research, who relay that information to people, who decide laws and regulations and who deal with the issue of childhood obesity first-hand.
“There is plenty of information about how to correct childhood obesity, but we still have almost 18 percent of children who are obese. This points to the idea that the collective group who thinks about and deals with childhood obesity — including academia, government, and stakeholders such as doctors, parents and teachers — is not communicating effectively enough and is not understanding each other’s needs. We really wanted to give these groups a platform on which this communication could be improved.”
Draut says the conference came about due to “a huge effort by the planning committee,” including Dr. Jack Odle, CALS professor of animal science and director of the Kannapolis Scholars Program, and Harris, FBNS assistant professor and member of the Kannapolis Scholars Program planning committee.
“The conference planning was truly driven by the first class of Kannapolis Scholars, including Christine Bradish of N.C. State; Dan Cooper, doctoral student in nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill; Krista Kennerly, master’s student in biology at Appalachian State University; Kyle Suttlemyre, master’s student in bioinformatics and genomics at UNC-Charlotte; Christa Watson, doctoral student in energy and environmental systems at N.C. A&T State University; Kelly Will, doctoral student in psychology at UNC-CH, and me,” says Draut. “In addition, we of course had tremendous support from the N.C. Research Campus and the community.”
The conference, which was available for attendance in person and via webinar, drew more than 80 in-person and more than 160 online participants, including some international webinar participation.
Among conference attendees were teachers, physicians and nurses, along with representatives from academia, local school boards and local, state and federal government.
The Kannapolis Scholars program perfectly complements Draut’s N.C. State studies, which began directly after she finished her undergraduate degree in the University of Tennessee’s Food Science and Technology program. Draut, a Cincinnati, Ohio, native, says she chose N.C. State because the university’s FBNS Department “is one of the best in the country, highlighted by the combination of food science, nutrition and bioprocessing into one department and by its strong Food Science Club involvement.”
Then when Harris presented the idea of coordinating the Kannapolis Scholars Program, she says, “I found myself at the beginning of a wonderful opportunity.”
It’s been a busy opportunity, too, she says. “In the beginning, I contributed to the development of two different websites, including one for the public and one Moodle [e-learning software platform] website for the scholars to use for assignments. I also contributed to the creation of assignments and program assessments for the scholars. During the past two summers, I was able to live in Kannapolis to assist with any housing issues, to run a journal club, to facilitate seminars given by researchers on the campus, to keep track of the scholars’ assignments via the Moodle website and to report some of the results that we are seeing.”
And of course, this past summer, she helped plan and execute the “Lost in Translation” conference organized by the first class of Kannapolis Scholars.
That first class has been very positive about the Kannapolis Scholars program, Draut says. Among the perks they mentioned are the new collaborations made, access to cutting edge laboratory equipment, opportunity to work with leading researchers in their fields and the ability to have had a different kind of experience than their fellow graduate students might have.
“Students also enjoyed the seminar series, where a different researcher who was connected to the campus would discuss his or her work. They felt that this really bridged the N.C. Research Campus and allowed them to better understand the other fields represented in the group,” she says. “Many of the students have indicated that they forged new collaborations and added new ideas and techniques to their research based on their interactions while in the Kannapolis Scholars Program.”
The program next continues into its third year, with a returning group of scholars.
– Terri Leith