Department of Nutritional Sciences announces new head

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— Penn State has named A. Catharine Ross head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences.

Ross, professor of nutritional sciences and physiology and holder of the Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, has served in the department for 21 years. For more than four decades, Ross has conducted research on Vitamin A nutrition and metabolism, and nutrition and immune function.

Ross said she is enthusiastic about her new role, which officially started March 1, in which she will support the department’s growth and encourage its continued success.

“I’m excited about the current state of the department,” she said. “New faculty, grants and projects are on the horizon.”

Ross said her goals for the department are to maintain its strengths in basic nutritional sciences while also supporting its growth in translational research.

“Our discipline puts the scientific wheels on nutrition and eating, and helps people make informed decisions,” she said. “In our discipline we can delve into the science behind nutrients and how they affect our bodies, and also be a translator to the public. Both of these jobs require a unique skill set. My role as department head is a balance between the two. I want to see our research reach new heights and also translate research findings to the public to affect outcomes.”

Other initiatives Ross has highlighted as part of her new role include growing research in the areas of global nutrition — such as in the relationship to hygiene and infectious disease — and building on microbiome research.

“What I love about nutrition is there are almost no boundaries,” Ross said. “We do have specific research goals, but the implications of that research are very broad. We can use nutrition knowledge to make better dietary recommendations and implement nutrition programs for the prevention and treatment of nutrition-related conditions that improve people’s lives.”

Ross said she also supports the department’s expansion of its online courses.

“Online courses are important for the department and its role in providing higher education to dietetic professionals,” she said.

The department will mount several faculty searches, including for two assistant professors in the areas of nutritional epidemiology and metabolism and physiology, as well as a new senior faculty member studying ingestive behavior.

“There’s a lot of development going on in the department,” Ross said. “This is a wonderful foundation from which to start.”

Ross said her many years of experience with the department, as well as her involvement with various nutrition community boards, has prepared her for this role.

“I’ve seen the department develop over the years, but also remain true to its core goals to study food intake, metabolism, energy and cardiovascular disease,” she said. “I’ve also had the opportunity to form strong relationships with faculty, staff and students over the years, which has also put me in a good position to lead the department.”

Ann C. Crouter, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development, said Ross brings an array of talents and skills to her new role as department head.

“She is a highly respected researcher, a dedicated graduate student mentor, and a staunch advocate for what her department needs to grow and thrive,” Crouter said. “She has her antennae out in every direction, looking for bridges to other departments and institutes and for ways to strengthen her department and discipline.”

Distinguished Professor of Nutrition Penny Kris-Etherton said the department is looking forward to working with Ross, a highly acclaimed scientist and a strategic thinker, to sustain and grow the department’s excellence in innovative ways.

“Ross is a visionary leader who has been at the forefront of science for decades. Her talent and expertise will be a major asset to our department,” Kris-Etherton said. “She will continue to build our program in a way that addresses key nutrition and health topics, both nationally and globally.”

Ross received her undergraduate education at the University of California at Davis, and master’s degree in nutrition and doctoral degree in biochemistry from Cornell University. She received her postdoctoral training from the department of medicine at Columbia University.

Ross is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Nutrition. A member of the National Academy of Sciences since 2003, Ross currently serves on the Food Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food and Nutrition Board.

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Last Updated March 23, 2017