Nutritional sciences students attend professional conference thanks to new class

November 25, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new class recently provided 34 Penn State nutritional sciences students the opportunity to experience a large-scale professional conference, attending with more than 10,000 registered dietitian nutritionists and nutrition industry leaders at the annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Philadelphia.

The conference, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and held from Oct. 26-29, was the largest meeting of food and nutrition experts who convene to address key issues affecting health globally.  

The course, NUTR 497: Professional Development in Nutrition, was conceived by Mary Dean Coleman-Kelly, associate teaching professor and director of the undergraduate dietetics program in the Penn State Department of Nutritional Sciences.

When developing the course, Coleman-Kelly sought to integrate classroom instruction and real-world learning opportunities.

“My goal was to explain how attending a large professional conference can help their training and to teach students how to create a plan to maximize their time while on site. I wanted them to understand how to effectively communicate with other professionals,” Coleman-Kelly said.

“Students spent four days hearing about the latest findings in nutrition research, education, management and leadership, and public health while alongside nutrition and dietetics professionals who share the same passion for nutrition as they do. Being engaged and interacting with professionals at a major conference allowed students to realize the endless possibilities their degree affords. For some, it opened their mind to opportunities they never knew existed.”

“It was an amazing opportunity and it gave so much insight into what I can do with my nutrition degree,” said nutritional sciences major Julie Dix, a returning adult student and mother of four in her junior year. “We got to meet so many contacts for our future internships. It was just incredible.”

Fellow classmate Abriana Cain, also a nutritional sciences major in her junior year, felt attending FNCE would be a fun learning experience.

“I learned a lot more than I would have reading textbooks and watching slides,” said Cain. “We learned about the nutrition field, food trends and things in the sessions that aren’t taught in a classroom.”

Both Dix and Cain felt one of the most important aspects of the class was the chance to network with recent graduates, professionals and other current students that they normally might not have had the chance to meet.

A Penn State student and alumni networking reception, held in conjunction with the conference, was a highlight for students. Penn State nutritional sciences alumni shared their personal and professional stories, offering valuable advice to students who are planning their life after graduation.

Having Penn State students at the conference also is beneficial to the sponsors of the event, according to Diane Enos, chief learning officer for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Our goal is to engage our future leaders sooner, and to give them a space to work, share and collaborate together. It’s a great way to shepherd the future of the profession,” Enos said. 

Enos explained that while at the conference, Penn State students stewarded a new pilot program called FNCE Student Ambassadors. This program gave Penn State students in attendance the opportunity to engage with students from other universities through activities that included resume writing, talking to presenters and networking.

As part of the FNCE Student Ambassadors program, Dix, Cain and their fellow Penn State students had the added honor of meeting the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams.

Lynn Parker Klees, assistant teaching professor and professor-in-charge of the undergraduate program, was enthused with these unique, enhanced student learning opportunities.

“In addition to the obvious benefits of attending the conference, students have shared with me that they are seeing more connections to the material presented in class,” she said. “These types of engagement experiences make a tremendous difference in their future careers.”

Parker Klees added, “What we remember the most in life are experiences, so if your educational experiences are just lecture based, 20 years from now you will not remember much of what you heard. The students who attended FNCE will remember this experience for the rest of their lives.”

For more information about courses offered by the College of Health and Human Development that include short-term travel experiences, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 25, 2019