HNFE sophomore Elizabeth Henry has collected more than 900 boxes over the past four years for Operation Christmas Child.

She brought this project to Virginia Tech in 2013 as a freshman, and it has received support from numerous faculty members and organization leaders including Fraternity and Sorority Life, sports teams, local churches, classes, and university administration.

For more than 20 years, Samaritan’s Purse, an international non-profit relief organization, has partnered with Operation Christmas Child to collect donations of shoe boxes filled with small toys, schools supplies, and toiletries for children in need across 135 countries.

Elizabeth Henry

Highlighted in December's Insights: The Dan River Partnership for Healthy Community received a R24 planning grant from NIH to conduct the Dan River Region POPS: Partnering for Obesity Planning and Sustainability study using a community-based participatory research approach. To date, the study has successfully developed an academic and community partnership that includes representatives from Danville Parks and Recreation, Danville/Pittsylvania Health District, Children's Healthcare Center, and Danville Boys & Girls Club.


Vivica Kraak's research has focused on accountability for healthy food environments, and her review article An accountability framework to promote healthy food environments was cited in the Global Nutrition Report (GNR) 2014 (pages 5-6, 86-87, 97). The GNR was released at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s and World Health Organization’s joint ICN2 (International Conference on Nutrition) held in Rome in November. The International Food Policy Research Institute, a policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C., produced the GNR this year, which prioritized the theme of accountability and action for governments worldwide to combat global malnutrition in all of its forms (including undernutrition as well as obesity and diet-related chronic diseases). 

Virginia Cooperative Extension partners with Farmacy Garden
While "take two kale and call me in the morning" is not exactly the prescription you would receive from a doctor at most health clinics, patients at the New River Valley Community Health Center do indeed receive a prescription to the New River Health District's Farmacy Garden for doctor's ordered physical activity and an injection of fresh fruits and vegetables. The garden, encircled by a white picket fence and located directly behind the center, is a collaboration of VCE, FNP's supplemental nutrition assistance program Women, Infants, and Children, and the New River Health District.

HNFE senior Christian Beyer is one of three candidates Virginia Tech has recommended for the Rhodes Scholarship, which provide support for tuition, fees, room, board, transportation, and books to 32 seniors for two years of graduate study at Oxford University. Beyer is a student-athlete, achieving academic success while participating as a scholarship basketball player for the university, and he plans to pursue medical school after graduation. Through a service learning study abroad course for student-athletes, Beyer traveled to the Philippines, which sparked a passion for youth assistance programs. He hopes to combine his medical interest in orthopedics to one day organize inner city clinics for under-privileged youth suffering from sports injuries.

The following students  won HNFE fall awards and scholarships:

  • Justin Resendes was awarded the HNFE Outstanding Senior: he was recognized for his high GPA, outstanding work in undergraduate research, and commitment to volunteering for local and international community outreach programs. Justin plans to attend medical school following graduation.
  • Olivia Schwartz was awarded the Carol B. Papillon Dietetic Scholarship: Olivia plans to pursue both an BS/MS degree followed by her Dietetics Internship. Outside the classroom, she is working on edits for a textbook and doing undergraduate research with Elena Serrano.
  • Katherine Stewart was awarded the George A. Oley Fund for Excellence: Katie maintains a strong GPA in both HNFE and outside classes while being a member of the Hokie Varsity Cheerleading Squad. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. In physical therapy.
  • Tanya Halliday was awarded the Selbolt Fitness and Wellness Award, which recognizes and supports travel to scientific meetings. Tanya presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in Orlando and plans to attend three upcoming meetings: The Obesity Society in November, The SCAN Symposium in May 2015, and the ASCM meeting, also next May.

The research of graduate student Alisha Farris was well-received by the media! She was interviewed by Good Morning America for the segment: School lunches offer better average nutrition than packed lunches. “Ours is the first study comparing packed lunches to NSLP lunches over a five-day period among pre-K and kindergarten students following the implementation of new nutrition standards,” said lead author Farris. “We found that both packed and school lunches almost entirely met nutrition standards, except school lunches were below energy and iron recommendations, whereas packed lunches exceeded fat and saturated fat recommendations. 

Podcast Interview: Nutritional Comparison of Packed and School Lunches in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten Children following the Implementation of the 2012-2013 National School Lunch Program Standards,” by Alisha R. Farris, MS, RD, Sarah Misyak, PhD, Kiyah J. Duffey, PhD, George C. Davis, PhD, Kathy Hosig, PhD, RD, Naama Atzaba-Poria, PhD, Mary M. McFerren, EdD, and Elena L. Serrano, PhD, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 46/Issue 6 (November-December 2014), published by Elsevier.

Fabio Almeida taught a course and presented a lecture at the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, Brazil
. His course was on the "Evaluation of Physical Activity Interventions using the RE-AIM framework," and his lecture was "Translating Research to Practice using Systems Science: The ISS Experience." He also participated in research and consultation meetings with faculty and graduate students.


Vivica Kraak attended two meetings on global childhood obesity prevention. Both meetings (Building a Culture of Health Lessons Learned from Global Efforts at RWJF, and Preventing Childhood Obesity in Latin America: Linking Evidence to Policy and Practice) may lead to future collaborations, research, and hopefully potential grants. Vivica presented "Beyond Business as Usual: Ensuring Accountable and Effective Public Health--Food Industry Partnerships to Promote Healthy Food & Active Living Environments for Children " at the RWJF conference (Panel 3: Developing effective and accountable public health and industry partnerships-- Transnational insights and lessons learned.)

Karen Strat
Karen Strat is working on a study to determine the effect of components of cocoa/chocolate on metabolism and digestion.

VT News: Third-year doctoral student Karen Strat's work on cocoa research may yield sweet benefits for health. Karen is exploring if cocoa can improve digestion and metabolism, and decrease the potential for disease. She is working with Andrew Neilson, an assistant professor of food science and technology and principal investigator of the project. Her project was also featured in 8 Awesome Research Projects At Virginia Tech, One Of The Top R&D Institutions In The U.S.

Alisha Farris at FNCE

Graduate student Alisha Farris attended the Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo Oct. 18-21 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Her poster was "Elementary Parent Perceptions on Choosing to Participate in the National School Lunch Program or Packing Their Children's Lunch."



Climate Summit with Janet Rankin
Andy Clark (Director of League of American Bicyclists), Carlos Dora (WHO), Janet Rankin, Rear Admiral Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, and Jim Sallis (faculty at UC-San Diego and Director of Active Living Research)

Janet Rankin was on the planning committee for "Civil Society Event on Action in Climate Change and Health," a civil society event held around the United Nations Climate Summit, which was held in New York City in September. The Summit highlights global climate change and engages commitments for a low carbon economy to mitigate climate change. Janet introduced Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak and served as moderator on the Active Transportation panel, where she announced the new American College of Sports Medicine's initiative ActivEarth, which focuses on increasing physical activity by making active transportation accessible and safe.

Graduate student Lauren Kennedy is the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences featured student of the month for September.

Congratulations to graduate student Will Moore, who was the recipient of the Janet Lowe Cameron Scholarship, awarded by the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection Committee.


First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe helped launch a statewide campaign known as “Eat Smart, Move More,” part of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, whose mission is to help low-income families make healthy food choices on a limited budget and to promote healthy, active lifestyles. One goal of the campaign is to show children and their families that eating nutrient-dense foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and being active are not just good health choices — they are socially respected behaviors. A second aim is to share the message that eating nutritious foods helps athletes achieve their goals on baseball fields, basketball courts, and anywhere else they have to depend on their bodies to perform well.

Congratulations to the Dietetic Internship Class of 2014 who achieved a 100% employment rate within three months of graduation. All of the 2014 grads who were seeking new positions in the dietetics profession are now working in acute care clinical dietetics, long term care, nutrition communications, wellness, renal, and education.  


The Appalachian Food Project was mentioned in July's edition of Natural Awakenings (p 4). The magazine highlighted the new "Farmacy Garden" initiative begun by AFP collaborators in Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Family Nutrition Program, and the New River Health District. Kudos to Meredith Ledlie Johnson, Kelli Scott, Sarah Misyak, and Kim Kirkbride for their work on this dynamic project!

Hayley Billingsley
Hayley with a Blacksburg resident who participates in the community supported agriculture program at Glade Road Growing Farm.

Senior Hayley Billingsley of Monterey, Virginia, spent last summer investigating the health impacts of Community Supported Agriculture as part of the Fralin Life Science Institute Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. Working with mentor Megan O’Rourke, an assistant professor of horticulture, Hayley recruited 20 people who invested in area farm CSA's to participate in her study. From April to November, these people picked up a bundle of food once a week at various drop locations throughout town, including campus, Vintage Cellar, Eats Natural Foods, and Annie Kay’s Main Street market.


Graduate student Alisha Farris participated in the 2014 U.S. Borlaug Summer Institute on Global Food Security, a two week learning program for graduate students who are interested in developing a holistic understanding of the conceptual challenges around global food security. The introduction to global food security provided students with knowledge of these issues and focused on cross-disciplinary problem solving of real-world development challenges.


The Danville Regional Foundation funded the "Make it Happen!" project, which is a collaboration between the Dan River Partnership for a Healthy Community (DRPHC), Danville Parks and Recreation, HNFE, and Marketing. Watch the YouTube video, where HNFE PhD student Ramine Alexander is interviewed (~ seven minutes with a shout out to VT starting around the four minute mark). The DRPHC consists of approximately 30 organizations and approximately 50 members from the Caswell, Pittsylvania, Henry/Martinsville, Halifax, and Danville regions.


Dr. Mike Pratt, Chief of the Physical Activity and Health Branch, Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the CDC, presented a graduate seminar on the costs of inactivity. Dr. Pratt coordinates physical activity research and health promotion programs within the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Christian Beyer and Katie Yenson

Congratulations to HNFE's Christian Beyer, who received the 2014 Skelton Award for Academic Excellence in Athletics! This award is the highest designation handed out by the Tech athletics department and is awarded to a rising junior, senior or fifth-year student-athlete who has participated in intercollegiate athletics for at least two seasons at Tech and who holds an overall grade-point average of 3.40 or better. Each recipient receives a scholarship of $5,000. Christian plays on the men's basketball team. Christian said, "I was really excited. Obviously, it’s a huge honor. All the time that I’ve put into schoolwork … it’s just nice to see people rewarding the student-athletes who put the time in in the classroom as well as on the court or whatever sport they play. So I was extremely honored."

For the second year in a row, HNFE students were selected as winners for the ePortfolio Undergraduate Student Showcase, held  April 24. Shannon Lloyd was selected in the Learning and Service category, and Kailey Proctor was selected in the Professional Growth and Research category. Shannon and Kailey each gave a ten minute presentation.

Amy and Grace

HNFE students Amy Milstead and Grace McGuirk won first place at the 2014 VT Engagement Poster Showcase on April 22. Their Civic Agriculture & Food Systems Capstone Project was “Learn, Grow, Thrive! and the Community Partner was Headstart in Pearisburg, Virginia. Learn, Grow, Thrive! is a four week nutrition and gardening education workshop for the 3-5 year old kids participating in the Head Start program in Pearisburg, VA during the Spring of 2014. The lessons are based on food, nutrition, and agriculture to provide an experiential learning opportunity to kids that will hopefully spark their interest and desire in establishing lifelong healthy eating habits.

HNFE student Kerri Bain received an Excellence in Access and Inclusion Award on April 22. The award, from Services for Students with Disabilities (with support from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion) recognizes faculty, staff, and students who have shown exceptional leadership in access and inclusion. Kerri was a a note taker for six HNFE classes this academic year and was praised for her willingness to assist with so many classes, and to be counted on to provide effective notes in a timely manner.The department thanks Kerri for her efforts!


Nicolin Girmes-Grieco was honored as Teacher of the Week for April 14 by The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER). Nicolin was selected for her effective instruction, particularly in a large classroom setting, which she believes must be engaging, innovative, versatile, challenging, and multi-directional. Her students not only learn from her, but she learns from them and together they move to another dimension of knowledge, understanding, and mutual respect.

Carol Papillon

Carol Papillon was honored on April 7 as the "2014 Distinguished Dietitian of the Year" by the Virginia Dietetic Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at their annual meeting.

This is the highest honor for a dietitian in the state of Virginia and is awarded based on excellence in the field of nutrition and dietetics, leadership, volunteering, mentoring, research publications, and overall contributions to the community and profession.

In search for new ways to prevent diabetes, Kevin Davy and colleagues Matt Hulver, Brenda Davy, Andrew Nielson, and Monica Ponder are investigating whether inulin will reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria, reducing intestinal permeability, and, as a result, the amount of endotoxin in the bloodstream.


Nicolin Girmes-Grieco and Renee Selberg-Eaton were nominated by students as "Favorite Faculty." This recognition program is hosted by Housing and Residence Life and recognizes hard work, contributions to academia, and dedication to student learning. Congratulations Nicolin and Renee!


Graduate students Alisha Farris and Elika Shabrokh won awards at the Graduate Student Assembly's Research Symposium held on March 26: Alisha won first place in the presentation category for "Assessing the Nutritional Quality of Packed and School Lunches." Elika won second place in the poster category for "Mitochondrial Function and Substrate Metabolism in a Mouse Model of Sporadic Inclusion Body Myositis."

Nancy, Courtney, Olivia
Nancy Rodriguez, Courtney Pinard, and Olivia Ellis

HNFE had two alumni and one student honored at the 2014 CALS Annual Awards Ceremony:

Nancy Rodriguez (BS '78) was the Outstanding Senior Alumna: After completing her postdoctoral training at the Mayo Clinic, she joined the University of Connecticut where she is now professor of nutritional sciences. She directs the sports nutrition programs for the university and for the department of sports medicine in the division of athletics. Her research program focuses on relationships between exercise, protein intake, and protein utilization in athletes, physically active adults, and healthy obese and non-obese children.

Courtney Pinard (PhD '10) was the Outstanding Recent Alumna: Upon completion of her doctorate, she was offered a job as a faculty researcher at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, the preeminent nutrition research center in Nebraska. She has been very productive since she graduated, publishing in strong journals and obtaining research funding from the National 4-H Council, the ConAgra Foods Foundation, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

HNFE senior Olivia Ellis was the Outstanding Ambassador for CALS: An ambassador since 2011, she serves as the representative to the alumni organization board of directors, a mentor for the Freshman Leadership Experience, and a peer leader for CALS. Olivia recently became student director of the university’s extended orientation program, assisting in hiring and training over 100 students to represent the school and welcome approximately 1000 incoming Hokies to campus. If you want to know all about Hokie Camp, talk with Olivia and share in her passion and enthusiasm for the Hokie Nation!

Eleanor Schlenker

Eleanor Schlenker honored with emerita status: A member of the Virginia Tech community for 19 years, Eleanor made significant contributions to nutrition field. She was department head from 1988-98, and in the classroom, she taught undergraduate and graduate courses where she emphasized professional standards and student learning as applied to realistic professional situations. Within Virginia Cooperative Extension, she implemented a community- and church-based diabetes education program with rigorous standards of evaluation that attracted more than $2 million in funding from the Obici HealthCare Foundation, Virginia Department of Health, and the National Institutes of Health.


The Didactic Program in Dietetics and Internship Program in Nutrition and Dietetics received continued accreditation from ACEND.  At the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics board meeting held in February, both the Virginia Tech DPD (Dietetics Undergraduate Option) and Internship Program were granted continued accreditation status based on our Program Assessment Reports (submitted 10/1/13). Thank you to all our faculty, staff, and students for your efforts in support of both programs. The DPD was recognized for its 95 percent first time taker pass rate on the Registration Examination for Dietitians. The Internship Program was recognized for its 96 percent first time taker pass rate on the Registration Examination for Dietitians. The next ACEND review and site visit is scheduled for 2018.

Zhiyong Cheng’s article "Mitochondria and Metabolic Homeostasis" was featured March 19 as "Open Paper of the Day" by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers.

HNFE Senior Lucas Kane of Herndon, Va., will present at the eighth annual ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference.

His research, mentored by Eva Schmelz, is titled, "Analysis of NMDA receptor subunit ligand binding domain interactions in multiple conformations by molecular dynamics simulations."

Kane and seven other Virginia Tech students will present at this year's conference, which is hosted by the University of Pittsburgh from April 3-5.

Lucas Kane
Lucas Kane at the Great Wall during the 2013 Study Abroad in China.


The behavioral research "iChoose" of Jamie Zoellner, Jennie Hill, and Paul Estabrooks was featured by ABC 13 on February 8: New Three-Month Program Helps Families Choose Healthier Lifestyle. iChoose is a program that has 26 families in Danville, Virginia, working towards the goal of a healthier lifestyle by attending nutrition and exercise classes.


The research of Robert Grange, along with graduate student Jon Doering, on the rescue of muscle function in treated dogs was featured in several media outlets, including Science Translational Medicine and University of Washington Medicine. "The functional improvement was truly remarkable," said Grange. "It is both incredibly exciting and humbling to contribute to such a meaningful project – a true highlight of our careers."


Senegal 2013-14

13 students and four faculty from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences traveled to Senegal during winter term to work on several projects, including four HNFE students: Samantha Adas, Paige Macauley, Aubrey Stephenson, and Daniel Vanden Hoek, and faculty member Renee Selberg-Eaton. Projects ranged from vegetable and tree planting, to silage making and water purification. Students were able to understand the mission "Feed the Future" from a multitude of perspectives, therefore developing an appreciation for the complexities of global issues.

Brenda Davy was on "With Good Reason" the week of Jan. 12 on its program "Start the Year Off Right." Her research shows that drinking two 8-ounce glasses before each meal helps decrease calorie intake. Davy investigates lifestyle strategies that prevent obesity, and her studies about the role of water in diets are making news.


VT News Spotlight Jamie Zoellner and Jennie Hill are helping lead the Dan River Partnership for a Healthy Community, a community-academic partnership between Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and more than 50 organizations including churches, government offices, grassroots organizations, and health professionals.

Bill Barbeau at his retirement celebration

Bill Barbeau retired at the end of December after nearly 30 years with the department. He was honored with a retirement celebration on January 11, where colleagues and students (both former and present) toasted his service and dedication to HNFE.

Matthew Hulver became department head effective January 1, 2014. He replaced Susan Hutson, who stepped down after five years.