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MSU Denver receives $2 million to improve Nutrition program

HSI status opens the door to grant funding that will diversify Colorado’s health workforce and support students.

By Lindsey Coulter

October 14, 2019

Nutrition class in progress.With the creation of the Health Institute in 2017, Metropolitan State University of Denver established itself as a leader in improving Colorado’s health workforce. A new $2 million Post-baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans grant from the U.S. Department of Education will do just that by comprehensively supporting diverse nutrition and dietetics students from recruitment through graduate opportunities.

Colorado nutrition and dietetics professionals serve a diverse population; however, approximately 91% of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are white women and only 3% are Latino (regardless of gender). That’s a problem.

“There is strong evidence that RDNs of color can improve the health outcomes of minority populations,” said Professor Bruce Rengers, Ph.D., RDN. “Research also shows that a lack of diversity can negatively affect patients of color and that clients have better outcomes, and services are more effective, when practitioners have language or cultural concordance with them.”

MSU Denver’s Nutrition program, where 23% of undergraduate students are Latino, is already more diverse than the profession overall. However, simply graduating diverse students is not enough. Dietetics is a challenging field, requiring four years of education and a competitive fifth-year internship. Starting in 2024, RDN hopefuls will also need to have master’s degrees. These requirements often inhibit diverse students from becoming professional RDNs.

“The ultimate goal of this grant is to increase diversity in the dietetics profession, thereby improving access to nutritional care, reducing nutritional health inequities and improving culturally responsive nutrition care in Colorado,” said Melissa Masters, Ph.D., RDN, associate professor.

Rachel Sinley, Ph.D., RDN, assistant professor, said the grant will support comprehensive, evidence-based initiatives to help Latino and diverse nutrition and dietetics students navigate potential barriers from recruitment through postgraduation success. This includes working to bring cultural awareness to the issues faced by dietitians and nutrition professionals in the health-care workforce, as well as:

  • Outreach to students from high school to baccalaureate programs
  • Financial support to help students navigate enrollment and retention barriers
  • The hiring of a full-time advising specialist and diverse staff
  • Mentorship with industry practitioners
  • Financial-literacy training through postgraduation, focusing on loan payback and budgeting
  • The development of regular seminars and an annual conference focused on diversity in dietetics and health care

Additionally, the grant supports efforts to grow faculty, staff, student and practitioner knowledge on diversity and cultural intelligence — efforts that pre-date the submission. The Department of Nutrition has a strong record of promoting diversity, including developing a study-abroad program in Mexico and winning earlier grants to recruit and foster diverse nutrition professionals.

“Universitywide, the Hispanic student population has also grown to 29.9% of the student body, despite overall enrollment declines,” noted Angela Marquez, Ph.D., executive director of Inclusion and HSI. “This growth secured MSU Denver’s HSI designation, which in turn made the University eligible to apply for the DOE grant and other opportunities that can improve programs and services for all students.”

The successful submission is also proof of our University values in action, specifically collaboration. The Health Institute HRSA grant set the stage for this grant, and College of Professional Studies Dean Jenn Capps provided support throughout the process. Department of Nutrition faculty and staff, specifically Rengers, were vital, as were staff in the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research, who assisted principal investigators Sinley and Masters with its development.

Topics: Academics, Diversity, Hispanic Serving Institution

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