Hey everyone! My name is Nneka, but you can call me Nek (Neek). I recently received my Master of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health with a concentration in Community Nutrition Education from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH). I earned my bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education from Morgan State University. I live in Baltimore, Maryland but I was born in England, and raised in Prince George's County in Maryland.
I made the choice to go back to school because I was unfulfilled in my previous career and also because I had a strong desire to be a positive light in the world--starting with my own community. I am very passionate about working in urban environments, and inspiring, educating, and empowering people to make healthier lifestyle choices.
I completed my graduate practicum with the University of Maryland Extension-Baltimore City Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). This program provides free nutrition education workshops to low-income families living in Baltimore City. Participants learn about basic food groups, nutritious food choices, ideas for meal preparation, food safety and storage practices, smart snacking, physical activity, and improving diet for a healthier lifestyle for individuals and families.
Description of Graduate Study
The Master of Science in Nutrition and Integrative Health program at MUIH is unique in it's emphasis on the interrelated physiological, environmental, socio-cultural, and spiritual roles of food in our lives. Graduates of this program are well-equipped to provide nutrition assessments and counseling, community nutrition presentations, cooking demos, and to develop innovative programs to improve health outcomes of underserved populations.
The Nutrition and Integrative Health program offers three areas of concentration for students to choose. The Human Clinical Nutrition concentration is ideal for students who primarily plan to see clients in a private nutrition practice or join a medical or integrative health setting. The Community Nutrition Education concentration is ideal for students who want to develop innovative nutrition education programs for underserved communities or other groups who could benefit from grocery store tours, farm to school programs, or nutrition seminars. The Herbal Medicine concentration is ideal for students interested in pursuing the natural and complementary combination of nutrition and herbs.
In choosing the Community Nutrition Education concentration at MUIH, my curriculum included courses such as Foundations of Behavior & Health Education, Redefining Nutrition, Health Education Needs Assessment and Program Planning, Health Education Program Evaluation, and Mindful Eating and Nourishment in addition to the standard higher education nutrition courses like Organic Chemistry, Physiology, Nutritional Biochemistry, Macronutrients, and Micronutrients,
During my study at MUIH, I completed projects on the following topics:
Sleep as a basic need of life
Planning, implementing, and evaluating community health programs
Fermented food and the microbiome
The efficacy of ginger in reducing pregnancy related nausea
Optimizing breast milk through nutrition and lifestyle
Obesity in Baltimore City
One of the most beneficial courses was Cooking with Whole Foods Lab 6. In this class, each student was required to demonstrate her cooking skills by designing and implementing a whole foods cooking demonstration for a group. Through this class, I was able to learn the proper steps to plan, organize, and facilitate my very first community cooking demonstration. I was well prepared and felt confident in my role as a nutrition educator. I still use many of these lessons today as I conduct cooking demos and nutrition education workshops as part of my work. Check out my final project for Cooking with Whole Foods Lab 6 here:
Nutrition Education Philosophy
From an early age, I can remember hiding my grandmothers cigarettes because I didn't want her to smoke. I can also remember getting in trouble for refusing to bring my mother a bag of chips as a snack; I wanted her to make a better choice. When I think about it, I was born to be a health and nutrition educator-it's just in my blood.
I became passionate about health and nutrition by seeing the effects of poor lifestyle and poor eating habits beginning to manifest within my family. Like many African-Americans, I have a family history of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Through research, I've learned that African-Americans are at a higher risk of developing diet-related diseases. This can be attributed to diet, lifestyle, culture, socioeconomic status, lack of nutrition knowledge, and reduced food access. Living in Baltimore also illuminated the health disparities for people of color living in the City. These facts fuel my passion to teach nutrition and improve health outcomes in underserved communities.
I have taught nutrition in drug treatment facilities, Head Start programs, transitional houses, schools, and in churches. I have found that participants are very receptive to me as an educator. I am able to connect with participants because of our shared culture and experiences. I select recipes with familiar ingredients, suggest cost-saving alternatives, and introduce affordable foods for participants to try. I always emphasize the importance of making small changes, teaching children the importance of eating healthy, and that it is never too late to improve your diet. I want to inspire the groups I teach to be healthier and to know that diet-related diseases are not a part of our culture. For centuries, the traditional way of eating has protected Africans from obesity and the many chronic diseases Americans face today. People of African descent have a rich cultural diet that relies much more on plant-based whole foods and less on animal products and highly processed foods. I believe that by reclaiming our heritage through real foods, we can reclaim our health.
Statement of Personal Professional Ethics
Working with low-income families, with people of color, and within disadvantaged communities is a large component of my career as a Nutrition Educator. Working with these groups requires a high level of sensitivity and cultural competence. As a Community Nutrition Educator, I must be able to tailor education materials, key messages, and recipes to each individual audience. I must take into consideration food security, income restrictions, education level, and any other social, psychological, or physical challenges that may be present among program participants. It is important to listen to program participants without judgement, and to honestly admit it if I do not know the answer to a question. I must acknowledge that it is not my job to save these communities, but rather to inspire, educate, and empower people to make healthier lifestyle choices for themselves and their families.