Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Ellie Dodge – Applied Nutrition Program
Dr. Dodge is the Program Manager for the Master of Science in Applied Nutrition program at UNE Online. Her program has a diverse student body, and her faculty all follow the scholar-practitioner model, making the program highly desirable for students with a passion for nutrition.
Recently we sat down with Dr. Dodge to discuss the Applied Nutrition program here at UNE Online.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what drew you to UNE Online?
I did my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. in Nutrition, all at the University of Maine. My dissertation, Evaluation of the Impacts of a Cooperative Extension 4-H Nutrition Education and Gardening Program on Nutrition Behavior and Self-Efficacy, involved developing a nutrition education curriculum and then evaluating the impacts of the curriculum on a variety of research groups. Developing and teaching curricula and evaluating the impact through statistical assessment are all things that I really enjoy doing.
I worked at the University of Maine in a variety of roles for about 16 years, where I taught the largest online class there, Introduction to Food Science and Nutrition. I also helped develop their HealthyU Online weight management program, which used a hybrid online and face-to-face model to reach our students.
I really love teaching and developing coursework to be offered online because it provides educational opportunities to students who, due to their physical location, jobs, schedules or family, may not otherwise have access to these opportunities.
Can you talk a little bit about your program and who would be interested in a Master’s in Applied Nutrition?
The Master’s of Science in Nutrition is of interest to a lot of people, both career changers and RDs who want to further their education in the field, as well as students that have discovered a passion for the field of nutrition through their previous coursework.
- Career changers have the option to pursue the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) pathway if they would like to do clinical work, depending on the laws in the state they’ll be practicing in-in some states this provides an alternate route to state licensure.
- Dietitians who want to further their careers in the field are also interested in pursuing this degree because UNE provides ways for them to customize their degree based on focus area; this can help Dietetics professionals further their education to stay relevant in the field and to achieve their career goals.
- A lot of people are drawn to nutrition if they have a broad health science background simply because they have taken a lot of the foundational science classes, and then come to understand that they are really passionate about how nutrition ultimately impacts their health.
Anyone who is interested in nutrition could find benefit from this program.
What is your favorite aspect of the program?
One of the great things about being able to build a program is that I was able to put an emphasis on project-based learning and authentic intellectual work. By basing the curriculum on methods which relate adult learning theory to online course design we are able to make the assignments meaningful and relevant.
In just about every class students do projects and work that they will ultimately either showcase publicly or use in their field of work. This is a stark change from many programs, both on-ground and online where you might write a research paper or proposal, and then it doesn’t really go anywhere but your hard drive or filing cabinet.
I really enjoy thinking of creative ways to engage students with the material, and encouraging my faculty to get really creative to find ways to engage the students with the material. This approach to applying the topics that students are learning about is valuable because once our students graduate, and in their professional careers, they will often be asked to come up with creative venues to explain and educate nutrition-related issues to their students, co-workers, clients and patients.
How do you encourage your faculty to foster a sense of community among your online students?
All of our faculty are what we call scholar-practitioners. This means that, in addition to being faculty, they also are active and engaged in research and scholarship in the field of nutrition. It’s really nice to have faculty that have a leg in both worlds. Because they are practicing in and engaging with the field every day, the information that they present to students is current and extremely relevant; their depth of experience really shows through in their teaching.
The majority of our faculty are terminally degreed, whether it’s a Ph.D. in Nutrition or closely related field, a DSc, Doctorate of Science, or DCNs, Doctorate of Clinical Nutrition. The faculty who do not have a terminal degree are either engaged in a terminal degree program right now or are very experienced in their field and bring a depth of experience that we believe is of value to the students.
All of our faculty are very responsive to our students, and they really want to encourage them to be the best they can possibly be in the field. Each week they all set aside time to hold office hours. We even have several faculty that have mentoring relationships with students who are working on publications.
The capstone is also a very high-touch, personal experience for students. Their faculty mentor, the program manager, and their faculty of record all work together to form a de facto committee to evaluate the capstone work done by the student. There are multiple professional eyes on each student’s capstone.
How do you feel that you prepare your students for life after graduation?
It goes back to really basing the curriculum on project-based learning and authentic intellectual work, and basing all coursework on appropriate learning theory. We examine where those elements intersect, and look at how we can best prepare students to be equipped to go into the field, boots on the ground, running and ready to go. Virtually every assignment in our curriculum is designed to facilitate that our students are career-ready. Current students who work in the field have reflected that they find the assignments to be valuable and immediately pertinent to the work they do on a daily basis.
What do you feel sets the UNE Online Applied Nutrition program apart from other graduate Nutrition programs?
It’s somewhat new to be able to offer a Masters of Science in Applied Nutrition in a 100% online format, so we’re on the forefront of that small but growing movement.
Academically, we stand out for our very favorable student to faculty ratio. We keep our classes at 15-20 students per faculty member to really encourage that faculty interaction with students, and so we can make sure the student has the best experience possible.
Additionally, in the academic realm, we’re using the very latest in learning theory. Our emphasis on project-based learning and authentic intellectual work is key; we have used these elements as the foundations of our classes so that students are engaged in meaningful work for their entire program.
What do you like best about working with UNE Online students?
They’re a really, really, great and diverse body of students to work with. Our students come from all over the globe, although we’re heavily represented in the United States, and come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Just listening to people’s experiences and what brings them to the field, and knowing that we’re helping prepare them to have a successful career in the field of nutrition, really is a rewarding part of working with each individual student.
Interested in getting your Master’s in Applied Nutrition? Let’s chat! Give us a call at 1(855) 751-4447 or reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Applied Nutrition program information: http://go.une.edu/nutrition