March 30, 2016
By Eliza Mellion
Rob Dunn ‘16, a senior in the Department of Nutrition, has excelled academically while participating in an impressive array of volunteer, work, and research experiences. We caught up with Rob before he graduates (in May!) to learn more about his work over the past 4 years, and to get his advice for other nutrition majors looking to develop their resume and find fulfilling nutrition-related experiences.
As a high school athlete, Rob Dunn first developed an interest in nutrition when he discovered how food and diet could impact athletic performance. Though Dunn came to UMass Amherst planning to focus on Sports Nutrition, his central interests have moved into health policy, chronic disease prevention, and medical nutrition therapy.
When asked what he finds most rewarding about studying Nutrition, Dunn says, “I enjoy the collaborative aspect of nutrition, the idea that complex scientific research can affect the food that families eat together at the dinner table.”
Indeed, Dunn has engaged in an impressive amount of collaborative work during his time at the university. Since his sophomore year, Dunn has been an undergraduate assistant and programming intern with the UMass Nutrition Extension Program, a program that provides nutrition education and resources to families in low-income communities. Here Dunn helped to conduct data analysis of over 10,000 survey results of nutrition education programming across Massachusetts. Dunn also gained a variety of other nutrition experiences, like leading classes on fruit and veggies to kindergarten classes, doing outreach at farmers markets, and contributing to adult nutrition programming.
Inspired by his experiences with the Extension Program, Dunn completed a research project in the Nutrition Department with Dr. Reed Mangels that he presented at last year’s undergraduate research conference. Dunn’s research explored how to improve farmers’ market access for low-income families across the country. Dunn reported that his research found that “inconsistencies in health policy between states led to a very wide gap in purchasing power at farmers markets for people receiving WIC benefits.”
Since he first arrived at UMass Amherst, Dunn has spent every semester gaining valuable food service experience working in food prep at Franklin Dining Commons. Dunn has honed his leadership skills in his role as the Student Director of the UMass Athletics Nutrition Student Advising Program (ANSAP), which he took on this past year, and as a Peer Advisor in the Department of Nutrition for the past two years. Dunn has also had the unusual opportunity to work as an undergraduate teaching assistant in both the Nutrition and Kinesiology Departments this year, presenting lectures to classes of over 100 students.
When Dunn goes home to Medford during school breaks, you won’t find him lounging around in front of the TV—he’s hard at work at the food service team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he has been employed the past three years. If he’s not there, you can find him volunteering at the VA Boston healthcare system designing diet restriction menu templates and improving the food ordering system for the nutrition team.
Dunn has been honored for his hard work with the UMass Alumni Association’s William F. Field Alumni Scholarship (2015), the Sodexo Health Care CARES Award for Patient Service (2015), and a nomination for the UMass Auxiliary Service Student Employee of the Year (2014 and 2015).
We asked Dunn how he found all his work and volunteer experiences. Dunn said it’s simpler than it might seem: “I spent a good amount of time responding to emails and job postings that are sent out by SPHHS and the Nutrition Department. I cannot stress enough the importance of checking your email. Every time you ignore an email it could mean missing an opportunity.” For his clinical experiences Dunn personally reached out to area hospitals and expressed his interest in gaining experience.
Dunn suggests that the key to finding good experiences as an undergrad “comes down to being proactive and persistent, and being willing to step out of your comfort zone.” When reaching out to potential employers or supervisors, Dunn advised the importance of expressing genuine interest in gaining experience, showing an ability and passion to learn, and, most importantly, working hard once you get the job.
As Dunn points out from his own work background in school and hospital food service, it is often the simpler, early jobs you have that can give you a good foundation to prepare you for more relevant and complex roles and opportunities. “There is no such thing as a field opportunity that’s ‘below’ you,” says Dunn. “Sometimes you have to wash dishes before you can talk to patients, or do data entry before you can teach classes. Consider every opportunity that comes your way, and don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibilities once you get a job or internship.”