Innovation in Dietetics Education: Engaging Community Members and Meeting the Needs of Tomorrow’s Practitioners in Appalachia

The Marshall University Nutrition Education Program (NEP) has provided nutrition education to low-income children in a rural, six-county radius in West Virginia through a grant from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program (SNAP-Ed) since 2008. In 2015, the programs moved off campus to a new downtown location, which allowed for full integration of the undergraduate and graduate programs, the dietetic internship, and the NEP. This integration allowed for the development of innovative teaching strategies in our curricula, and meets the need of our diverse students and Appalachian communities.

Undergraduate students are immersed in school-nutrition education through the NEP in their community nutrition and research in dietetics courses. Dietetic interns play an integral role in providing nutrition education to low-income NEP participants, and develop grantsmanship and research skills. In turn, interns mentor undergraduate students in preparation for future professional endeavors. Students all experience networking opportunities while meeting the critical healthcare needs of rural, Appalachian communities.

This summary seeks to promote dialogue about innovative strategies in dietetics education and express how program integration has provided opportunities to build diverse relationships between students and create community healthcare engagement. We will demonstrate how students have been afforded experiential-learning opportunities in the Appalachian region through the delivery of nutrition education lessons and implementation of policy, system, and environmental programs. We will show how Appalachian communities have benefited from this innovation by experiencing short- and long-term health impacts through improved eating and physical activity habits and school and community environments.