Professor Receives USDA-NIFA Grant to Address Need for Human Nutritionists

Donna Graham
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Donna Graham

A researcher at the U of A has been awarded a USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant to help educate and train master’s degree students to fill expected job openings in diverse communities. 

Donna L Graham, University Professor and director of the School of Human Environmental Sciences in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, has been awarded a $222,500 grant. It will be used to recruit underrepresented students with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or related field into the master’s degree program.

Job opportunities for nutritionists and dietitians are expected to increase 11% by 2030, but the lack of diversity among healthcare practitioners has limited equitable care for some populations. 

“This growth is much higher than the average for all occupations,” Graham said. “Northwest Arkansas is experiencing population growth in recent years and is expected to continue this growth with a more diverse population. For example, the Hispanic population increased 22.4% from 2010 to 2017 in the Northwest Arkansas region. By training nutritionists from diverse backgrounds, this will help fill the gap of racial and ethnic disparities that exists within healthcare fields. 

“Graduates can work as part of a health care team in a variety of positions – hospitals, nursing homes, food service programs, nutrition communication, policy, food industries and more,” Graham said. “They are trained to assist individuals with healthy eating, how to use nutrition to promote health and manage disease. Only dietitians can assess, diagnose, recommend and treat various medical diagnosis and dietary problems based upon the contributing medical conditions.”

Graduates will earn a Master of Science in Human Environmental Sciences with a concentration in human nutrition.

“The goal is to admit two students in 2023 followed by three in 2024,” she says.

“This grant will help increase the pool of trained nutritionists and dietitians eligible to complete Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics program requirements,” Graham said. “A master’s degree provides depth of knowledge in nutritional subjects plus research skills. To become a registered dietitian nutritionist, the Commission on Dietetic Registration requires a minimum of a master’s degree plus the completion of supervised practice hours. The commission requires individuals to complete the supervised practice hours in programs accredited by the ACEND for this purpose.” 

The grant will fund five National Needs Fellowships to train underrepresented students in the master’s degree program to help fill the need in the human services and healthcare workforce.

The need for and importance of healthy diets has led to expansion in health science careers, and human nutrition and dietetics graduates are needed in healthcare, food and nutrition industries. Current research has shown that nutrition and diet are critical factors in the prevention and treatment of most chronic diseases.

The program will include formal training in nutrition research, laboratory techniques, enhanced mentoring and high-impact experiential learning activities in the community, as well as professionalism, leadership and service to the profession.  

Faculty who will assist with this grant include Sabrina Trudo, Mechelle Bailey, Aubrey Hawley, Eunjoo Cho, Jill Rucker, Jacquelyn Mosley and Nancy Buckley.  

About the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences: Bumpers College provides life-changing opportunities to position and prepare graduates who will be leaders in the businesses associated with foods, family, the environment, agriculture, sustainability and human quality of life; and who will be first-choice candidates of employers looking for leaders, innovators, policy makers and entrepreneurs. The college is named for Dale Bumpers, former Arkansas governor and longtime U.S. senator who made the state prominent in national and international agriculture. For more information about Bumpers College, visit our website, and follow us on Twitter at @BumpersCollege and Instagram at BumpersCollege.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.


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