It’s not just a degree, it’s preparation for my future

A different kind of Ph. D.: Jennifer Arts sits in a quiet, sun-filled lab on the third floor of Ranger Hall pouring over her data in anticipation of her April Ph.D. defense. “I am in the midst of analyzing my results right now. Just last week I found a significant increase in whole grain consumption,” she exclaims. “So I’m really excited.”

Jennifer, a Ph.D. candidate in CELS’ Nutrition and Food Sciences Department (NFS), is referring to data collected during her on-campus intervention project that targeted heart-risk reduction in young adults. Having taken time between her NFS Master’s and her current Ph.D. degree to participate in URI’s Dietetic Internship program, Jennifer has spent plenty of time in Rhode Island hospitals. “You know you always hear that heart disease is the number one killer, but it wasn’t until I was actually in the clinical setting that I became so alarmed by how many cases there are. You wouldn’t believe it,” said Jennifer.  “And knowing that nutrition can prevent or at least treat a lot of these heart disease complications really encouraged me to focus on this area for my research.”

“I love targeting heart disease in young adults because I think it’s an overlooked age group,” she added.  “Not many people when they think about heart disease think of young people.  Instead, you picture someone in their sixties or seventies. But, you’d be surprised by the prevalence of risk factors found within our younger generations.”

In an effort to add a public health perspective to her research, Jennifer worked with dining services. Jennifer’s advisor, Professor Ingrid Lofgren expounded, “We had signs, education tables, messages on the TVs where the menus are shown, and emails or text messages were sent to student participants, all to promote increased selection of whole grains and low fat dairy. Overall, it was a huge effort that not only benefited Jen but the entire URI student body.

Department Superstar: Beyond her extensive intervention project, Jennifer also acts as lab manager for Professor Lofgren and assists in teaching the laboratory portion of the NFS Introduction to Nutrition course. “I definitely know that students go to Jen a lot,” said Professor Lofgren. “She is a hardworking, consistent, and thoughtful person. She makes a great mentor.”

After becoming a registered dietitian but before formally entering the NFS Ph.D. program, Jennifer taught two classes for the NFS department: General Nutrition and Computer Applications in Nutrition. During that time, she truly experienced the demands and stresses of being a professor. As her mentor so aptly explains, “Because she’s had the experience of teaching, when she says she wants to do it (teach), I believe her. She has had a full semester of it, so she knows what she is getting into.”

Jen, as a primary author, recently published her first paper in Advances in Nutrition- Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors in College Students. Its acceptance came at a perfect time in her career. Not only will it be in print in time for her dissertation defense next month, but she hopes the published paper will increase her chances of obtaining a professorship after graduation in May.

Skills for the future: In addition to providing Jennifer with valuable skills for a successful career, teaching classes, managing a lab, authoring a review paper, and leading a 100 student nutritional intervention has also instilled in her a love for nutritional science and a great respect for her department and mentor.

Jennifer’s experience at CELS has allowed her to apply her knowledge to a real world setting.  “Simply put, it’s a blend of relevant and cutting edge research,” she said. “I love our department. That’s obviously why I stayed here for my Ph.D. It’s a really close-knit place where you call everyone by their first names and their doors are always open.”

The guidance she received from Professor Ingrid Lofgren has also left an indelible mark, “With Ingrid, it’s not just about getting your degree and graduating,” she said.  “She really sets you up for your future and makes sure that you meet with career services and you network. She is really helpful. I think there tends to be a lot of focus on just getting your degree requirements done, but Ingrid really wants to make sure you are set for the future. That’s why I will be forever grateful for all of the opportunities that I have been given here.”