Photo: NYIT students working in the garden.
Students in allied health professions programs (nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant, and osteopathic medicine) study everything from anatomy to Zika, but there is one thing that may be lacking in their academic diet: a solid background in nutrition.
“The majority of the nutrition education provided to most future health care providers relates to biochemistry, not meal planning, cooking or practical, food-related decision making,” said Assistant Professor Lorraine Mongiello, DrPH “As diet-related chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity are significant threats to the health and prosperity of our nation, we must provide our students with the skills needed to combat these epidemics.”
Now, Mongiello along with Mindy Haar, Ph.D., director of academic management, interdisciplinary health sciences and assistant dean, undergraduate affairs at NYIT School of Health Professions, are trying to do just that.
With the help of a grant from the Allen Foundation (which seeks to increase nutrition education and offers grants in the areas of health, education, training, and research), the two faculty members have launched the NYIT School of Health Professions and NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine Garden Lecture Series, which includes classes on nutrition and the use of a garden on the Old Westbury campus.
The initiative has been welcomed by the students. “They feel there is a gap in their education…but the challenge is finding the time in an already overcrowded curriculum,” said Mongiello. This new program aims to solve both problems. It also enhances the students’ education in other ways. “Students are required in all of the [School of Health Professions] programs to do enrichment activities outside of the classroom. The garden will give them another option,” said Mongiello.
Mongiello and Haar have taken a non-traditional approach when it comes to the series. The lectures will be held at the garden, located behind the Balding House, and the students will get their hands dirty during each class. Literally. “During one lecture, they will plant seeds, at another they may do some weeding,” explained Mongiello. “They’re in classrooms constantly. This offers a fun learning environment. We hope to pique their interest and help them learn about healthy eating habits.” The students will also have unlimited access to the garden to harvest fruits, vegetables, and herbs for their own consumption.
Having a basic understanding of nutrition and healthy eating habits will also enhance the students’ career prospects after they graduate. “Future health care providers must have basic nutrition knowledge and meal planning skills to improve both their own health and the health and well-being of their patients,” said Mongiello. Added Haar, “A growing body of research consistently confirms that optimum nutrition promotes wellness, prevents disease, and can be a tool in treating illness.” There are 11 classes in the lecture series; the first was held September 11.
Students in allied health professions programs can email Stella Leandrou at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 516.686.380 for more information and a complete schedule.