Beijul Shah ‘24 interviews Keriann Uesugi ‘04 because she related to Uesugi’s passion to help other people — she has truly strengthened communities through the work she has done for women and children.
By Beijul Shah ‘24
The Park Scholarships program has invited scholars from the Class of 2024 to interview Park alumni. This is part of a series of interviews that will be published throughout the year. Beijul Shah ’24 chose to interview Dr. Keriann Uesugi because she could relate to Dr. Uesugi’s passion to help other people — she has truly strengthened communities through the work she has done for women and children. Additionally, she was inspired by Dr. Uesugi’s dedication to constantly learning and growing, as she is always working to make sure her interests, talents, and career align — and she’s not afraid to make changes if they don’t.
After Dr. Uesugi ’04 earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at NC State, she set off to earn a Ph.D. in food science at Cornell University. She quickly realized that her interests lay more with nutrition. “I didn’t want to be in a lab anymore, so I got involved in public health nutrition,” she explains. She transferred to the nutrition program and was selected to participate in a field study testing the use of a new fortified cereal for infants and toddlers in Tanzania.
During this experience, Dr. Uesugi discovered her passion for understanding human nutrition on communal and international levels. Back at Cornell, Dr. Uesugi channeled this passion to help her complete her Ph.D. in nutrition and conducted post-doctoral research developing a web-based intervention to prevent excess weight gain during pregnancy and stimulate postpartum weight loss. With these experiences under her belt, she accepted a contractor role with Nestlé coordinating another web-based intervention project focused on infant nutrition and preventing early childhood obesity. At the same time, she worked at the University of Illinois-Chicago on a program focused on increasing the participation of children in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in Illinois.
These experiences ultimately led her to a career in government, where she serves as a health scientist at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration within the Maternal and Child Health Bureau last January. Her work, focusing on the reporting of maternal and child health data to monitor the health of this population across the nation and support public health program planning, is the perfect alignment of her interests, research, and field experience.
Dr. Uesugi clearly remains thankful for the Park Scholarships program and recognizes its hand in helping her realize and pursue her interests. As she puts it, the most direct advantage of the program is “setting you up to achieve the next thing.” Park Scholarships gave her the support network necessary to realize her interest in food science and nutrition even though she was a biochemistry major.
Upon graduation, she is also thankful for the assistance she received in finding, applying for, and receiving the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and attending Cornell for her Ph.D. Beyond the personal and academic support, she credits the program with giving her the financial freedom to graduate debt-free while providing access to all the relevant collegiate experiences — another huge advantage of the program.
Dr. Uesugi is grateful for her experiences studying abroad and conducting research at NC State, which she says the Park Scholarships program helped her pursue financially. As a member of a generation struggling with student loan debt, she explains that the financial backing of the Park Scholarships program allowed her to more freely explore her professional goals and helped her become a productive member of society with a meaningful career sooner than most. As she has moved through various jobs, she has also found that Park’s leadership training — a rare combination of experiences and training not often available to undergraduates — has guided her in the professional world and put her on a path to success.
As Dr. Uesugi looks to the future of the program, she hopes that it remains diverse. Park Scholars have a way of producing lasting, meaningful change in their careers from the resources and experiences afforded by this program. Having Park Scholars in a wide range of careers will lead to improvements in all of their fields. She hopes that future cohorts of scholars follow their interests and understand that their paths can not be set by anyone but themselves.
She stresses not to be afraid to change course and encourages students to take their time and talk to people. “Learn to listen, but also to only internalize productive messages — do not let anyone discourage you.” More than anything, she is excited to see the Park program, which has allowed her so much success, enable many more students to realize the endless possibilities of the future.