News Date: 
Sunday, October 23, 2011

Source: The Red and Black

By CRISSINDA PONDER on October 23, 2011

Meet the woman behind the table tents: Katherine Ingerson.

As the University’s registered dietitian since 2005, Ingerson has been interested in nutrition since her days as a competitive athlete.

“I noticed some of the girls [on the team] were greatly influenced by their diet and that if they ate junk for lunch they would get sick,” she said.

Not wanting that to ever happen to her, she learned what nutritious foods were and how much nutrition she should be getting.

“First of all, nutrition is fascinating, and I really like learning about the science behind it,” she said. “But I also really like to help people, and so I thought it would be a perfect fit for my personality.”

Ingerson knew in high school that she wanted to pursue a career in dietetics. While she was finishing up her undergraduate degree, her husband found a dietitian position online for the University.

“I came right out of college, did my internship and right out of my internship found a position at a university and interviewed and got it, so I was stoked,” Ingerson said.

Because college students are at an age when eating habits are developed, Ingerson said she enjoys assisting them with finding a healthy lifestyle to prevent chronic disease later in life.

Though there are more than 8,000 students on the meal plan, only a small number of those students take advantage of Ingerson and her services as a free resource — about one percent of students see Ingerson directly. Other students send her questions and concerns via email.

Ingerson makes an effort to stay in touch with students’ concerns by receiving feedback from the Peer Nutrition Educators student group, working with dietitian assistants and speaking directly with students.

“I try very hard to stay connected,” she said. “When I first got here it was easy, because I had just gotten out of college, but it’s been six years now — I’m not 22 anymore. So I just try to stay connected to the students.”

The registered dietitian position was nonexistent when J. Michael Floyd, executive director of food services, came to the University in 1986. That changed about a year later.

“At that time, it was unique to have a dietitian within the food service department, most campuses relied on a dietitian that worked in health services or a consulting dietitian,” Floyd said. “But because of the number of students on our meal plan here, I felt like that was a new trend in college food services and I believe that it’s been something that’s been an excellent investment in our program.”

The most challenging thing about Ingerson’s job is juggling her many responsibilities, she said. Aside from subtly suggesting students eat healthier through printed material, she conducts nutrition counseling, teaches the “Eating Smart” course for meal plan participants and a for-credit foods and nutrition course for dietetics students and creates nutrition labels for each dining hall, among other things.

What she finds most rewarding, however, are the students, which Ingerson said are grateful and often send over the many thank you cards that litter her office.

“The college population is very unique because they’re healthy, enthusiastic and excited to learn about nutrition and willing to try something new,” she said.

And the table tents that Ingerson has become known for are only one of several approaches to educating students, Floyd said.

“They are there for the consumer to read; they are promoting good nutrition in a very consumer-friendly way,” he said. “It’s us saying, ‘Eat your green beans’ without hitting you over the head to tell you to eat the green beans.”

He also thinks that Ingerson is fully engaged with meal plan participants.

“Katherine is just one of the many food service employees who care about students here at the University of Georgia, who is working everyday to make food services students’ second home,” Floyd said.