A Bridge Less Crossed

By: Anna Norman Contributing Writer

I confess: I am a “nontraditional student.” You may ask, “What does that mean?” In my case, it means a perpetual student. Through the late 1980s and 1990s, while my children were young, I attended Montgomery College, Rockville Campus, and enrolled in creative writing and computer courses to keep current and stimulated. Later, in 2008, I returned to MC to embark on a path with direction.

This was different. I had a mission.

I started at MC with Introduction to Nutrition and General Chemistry, after speaking with advisor Marcella Karp. I personally experienced a void in another Maryland University System institution in their Student Health Services. The health professionals I had encountered there were not empathetic to this condition. They did not seem to identify with the college students who had eating disorders. In my observation, these students were not viewed as someone’s beloved children but as broken objects. This sparked a need for me to fill a void of caring by finding a way to help this underserved population of college students.

Nancy Brinch, my Nutrition Professor at MC, was someone I respected and who served as a mentor to me. She had credentials that I held in high regard. I was interested in the path she took as a Registered Dietitian. Professor Brinch worked as a Registered Dietitian with college female athletes and had a great deal of experience working with students with eating disorders.

She also worked at a Wellness Center that I was familiar with in New England. Professor Brinch answered our questions, and gave us the tools and knowledge we needed to motivate our desire to learn more about the importance of nutrition and health. When I asked the professor if I could bring my daughter, a college freshman who was experiencing nutritional issues at another university, to class, the Professor told me to speak with my daughter ahead of time to make sure she would be comfortable in an environment where sensitive nutritional issues were discussed.

As my journey continued I took many more chemistry courses from the MC curriculum. I needed several nutrition courses before I transferred to a four-year dietetics program. My interest in nutrition and dietetics expanded beyond eating disorders as I noticed the strong connection between food and health in all populations.

My plan was to transfer to the Nutrition Program at the University of Maryland.

I enrolled in a biochemistry lab at the University of Maryland for summer credit. After a few weeks of arduous work and long commuting to College Park, I realized that the University of Maryland was not the right fit for me.

I researched other programs in the area. Dr. Prema Ganganna, Director of the Nutrition Program at University of District of Columbia, was kind enough to meet with me at our local Montgomery College library. She made me feel special by taking time from her busy schedule to meet with me outside of her office at a place convenient for us of both.

My experience with U.D.C. was completely the opposite from how I felt when I was at the University of Maryland. The environment at the University of Maryland was competitive and impersonal. At U.D.C., the atmosphere was cooperative and caring.

So I signed up for courses at U.D.C.

What a wonderful and challenging road it has continued to be. Dr. B. Michelle Harris and Dr. Ganganna strongly support our department. It has a rigorous curriculum and is rich with culture, community and stimulation. I took Biochemistry as my first course at U.D.C. This was the first chemistry course that I enjoyed because it made sense. Ironically, Professor Ayers, an adjunct professor from the University of Maryland, was outstanding and extremely challenging.

Each semester in the U.D.C. Nutrition Program is a different experience. The educators are expansive and take our course work to the field. Last semester, in my Geriatric Nutrition course, I presented a Nutrition Seminar at a local senior home. I also joined with fellow students to support and observe their nutritional seminars presented at DC charter schools.

Our professors are with us every step of the way. As dietitians, we can make a difference to the health and lives of so many. U.D.C. gives us the credentials we need and exposes us to the world in which we will work. I am currently in my third semester and am on schedule to graduate from U.D.C. in December 2012.

Montgomery College was a sturdy bridge to the U.D.C. Nutrition Program – a bridge that I invite science-minded MC students to cross. I encourage students interested in pursuing a career in nutrition to take advantage of the grand opportunity to enroll in the Department of Nutrition at the University of the District of Columbia.