Natalie Cooke ’10 and Kati Scruggs ’18 Team Up to Train Future Nutrition Educators

This academic year, a Park Scholar and an alumna teamed up to develop a series of training videos for aspiring nutrition educators. Natalie Cooke ‘10, Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar in NC State’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing & Nutrition Sciences and Program Director for A PACKed Kitchen – a satellite of the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle – received a DELTA Exploratory Grant to investigate the feasibility of 360° videos in training and evaluation for a community nutrition service-learning course. Kati Scruggs ‘18, a dual major in applied nutrition and women’s and gender studies, served as a research assistant for the project.

Cooke laid the foundation for this project while still an undergraduate. Then a pre-dental student majoring in biochemistry, she assisted Bob Patterson (now a Park Faculty Scholar for the Class of 2017) with a freshman seminar on world population and food prospects. Through this experience she not only discovered an interest in teaching, but also decided to add nutrition as a second major. It was then that she met Associate Professor of Nutrition Suzie Goodell.

“Suzie opened up my eyes to the world of community-related research,” said Cooke. “She instantly became my second Park Faculty Mentor.”

Beginning the summer prior to her senior year, Cooke worked with Goodell to develop a service-learning course – NTR 420: Community Nutrition – wherein students gain nutrition education skills. The lab portion of NTR 420 commences with a pre-service-learning training during which students learn lesson planning, knife skills, flexibility, and conflict and time management. Students then team-teach six-week Cooking Matters classes to children and teens from local Boys & Girls Clubs at partner sites Neighbor-to-Neighbor Outreach and Urban Ministries’ Open Door Clinic, as well as adults at DHIC communities.

A community liaison accompanies each team-teaching group to observe and assess students’ performance and lead them in reflection. Cooke, who serves as Scruggs’ academic advisor in nutrition, encouraged her to apply for a community liaison position as a freshman. Scruggs took Cooke’s advice and was accepted into the role.

Through an ongoing process of developing, implementing, and evaluating the service-learning experience over several years, Cooke – who completed her Ph.D. in nutrition in 2014 – and Goodell have worked to improve the course each semester. Their analyses of the program’s effectiveness have included both quantitative and qualitative analyses of students’ self-efficacy. One of their studies has been published, and two more are in the process of being published.

“We discovered that students needed more training than we had initially offered them, so we made that training our mission,” Cooke said. “The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) is now my main area of research focus.”

During the 2013-2014 academic year, Goodell received a DELTA grant to turn a community food security course into an online course, for which Cooke served as a curriculum developer. This project exposed Cooke to the breadth of possibilities of 360° video technology, prompting her to apply for a DELTA Exploratory Grant of her own this year. Through a collaborative effort with the DELTA team, Cooke and Scruggs – along with three other research assistants – developed eight instructional videos to teach future nutrition educators how to practice and teach knife safety. The videos and companion quizzes will be integrated into an online, interactive learning module.

Next year, Scruggs and another CALS Honors student will assess the impact of the training module through qualitative interviews and quantitative skills-based assessment.

Scruggs’ initial interest in nutrition stemmed from her background in athletics; however, it has evolved from simply learning how to fuel her body to maximize physical performance. She has become passionate about the media’s portrayal of women, the body-image crisis in young girls, and the rise of eating disorders, which led her to explore how nutrition contributes to a holistic model of health. After graduation, Scruggs intends to pursue either a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) or a coordinated MPH/Registered Dietician program, potentially taking some time off in between to serve in the Peace Corps or work abroad. Ultimately, she plans to work in the global public health sector, focusing on women’s health, nutrition, and nutrition and health education programs.

“Dr. Cooke has been an invaluable resource when it comes to planning for graduate school, trying to decide what to do with my summers, or picking a Civic Engagement Initiative,” said Scruggs. “As a mentor, she is constantly both encouraging and challenging me, and I think she often believes in me more than I believe in myself. Dr. Cooke provides a kind, intelligent, and driven example of what it means to be passionate about nutrition and to use that passion to serve others. I feel very grateful to work alongside her and learn from her.”

For more on the projects featured in this story, see: “DELTA Grants Make VR a Reality” and “Partnership gives CALS students opportunity to teach Cooking Matters classes”.