Nutrition Student Helps Texarkana Schools Land $44,000 Grant

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UAMS graduate student Laura Jill Richmond (left) receives grant check from Kim Price of the local dairy council.

March 9, 2011 | A UAMS clinical nutrition graduate student recently nabbed more than $44,000 for the school district where she works to be used for improving school menus.

Laura Jill Richmond of Marvell, a student in the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition (MSCN) degree program, was the lead author on a $44,122 grant the Texarkana (Texas) Independent School District received from Dairy Max, the local dairy council. Richmond works as a nutrition education coordinator intern for the district, which has an enrollment of 6,890 students and also provides student nutrition services on a contract basis to seven nearby districts.

“We found out about the grant and thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for our school district,” said Richmond, who has been working with the district since 2010 while completing her degree.

The grant funds will be used to promote accessibility to dairy products through new food preparation equipment as well as the addition of frozen yogurt and dairy vending machines. Milk and yogurt smoothies are now being offered in re-sealable plastic bottles, which are popular with students, said Beth Carson, director of nutrition for the Texarkana school district.

“This is a really big grant for a graduate student to facilitate,” said Reza Hakkak, Ph.D., a professor and chairman of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition in the UAMS College of Health Professions. “Grants are an important source of funding for nutrition programs and very competitive, so I am excited for Laura.”

Carson noted that the district received the maximum amount in the Dairy Max program, factoring out to about $2 per student. In addition to being the primary author of the grant, Richmond also will be responsible for implementing the grant program in the district this semester, she said.

Richmond said she thinks her interest in a career in nutrition grew out of having many food allergies as a child. Being allergic to chocolate made it hard to go to birthday parties, she said. She also traced her determination in pursuing a master’s degree back to UAMS – where she was born in January 1986, three months prematurely.

“The doctors told my parents that if I lived I could be blind, deaf or have developmental problems,” said Richmond, who was co-valedictorian of her high school class and graduated with honors from the University of Arkansas.

“I feel like I’ve overcome so many challenges,” she said.

“She’s an excellent student and a role model for students in our program,” Hakkak said. “Hopefully this opportunity will demonstrate for students how they can be successful in promoting nutrition education through grant funding.”

She hopes to complete her course work soon in the master’s degree program.

“I want to make an impact on this fast-paced, fast food generation,” she said. “It is very important to teach children the dangers of living an unhealthy lifestyle and to teach them how to find joy in eating right and exercising regularly.

“Early intervention is the key to reversing the childhood obesity pandemic. I believe that educating children about proper nutrition and physical activity is a vital aspect of early intervention.”

In her job at the school district, Richmond’s duties include coordination of nutrition education activities, programs and events; publication of a monthly nutrition newsletter; nutritional analysis of recipes, menu items and snacks; menu planning; and ensuring that nutritional guidelines and other requirements are being met by the district’s nutrition services.

The master’s degree nutrition science program prepares students with the latest information about nutrition and its role in disease prevention, Hakkak said. Graduates will often work in different areas such as nutrition management at schools or as registered dietitian in hospitals, he said.

“Nutrition education is a key factor in prevention of chronic disease in children and adults,” Hakkak said.  “Therefore there is a desperate need for more professionals trained in nutrition education and disease prevention.”