Virginia Tech®home

News from 2015


From Time Health December 2, 2015: 
Could probiotics be a new strategy for weight Loss?
 A new study adds to a growing awareness that our bacterial communities may influence our weight. A probiotic blended into a milkshake may help protect against weight gain, according to a recent study published in the journal Obesity (Probiotic supplementation attenuates increases in body mass and fat mass during high-fat diet in healthy young adults, Kristin L. Osterberg, Nabil E. Boutagy, Ryan P. McMillan, Joseph R. Stevens, Madlyn I. Frisard, John W. Kavanaugh, Brenda M. Davy, Kevin P. Davy, and Matthew W. Hulver).



Travertine Orndorff

Scholarship helps undergraduate develop an educational garden in Chile: After working at at a girls' home in Chile before college and seeing many of its resident living with malnutrition, HNFE junior Travertine Orndorff was inspired to apply for an Honors Odyssey Scholarship that took her back to Chile to plan an educational garden.


Highlighting the partnership between Virginia SNAP-ED with Roanoke Healthy Start, TAP, LEAP for Local Food, Happy Healthy Cooks, Roanoke Community Gardens Association, and Greenvale Elementary, the video also provides an overview of the benefits of the programs. 

Charlie Dickson

Congratulations to HNFE student Charlie Dickson, who competed in the USAPL Raw Powerlifting National competition; he placed third in the Jr Division and fifth in the Open Division for his weight class!


Finding the solution to the obesity epidemic: The Dan River Region Health Collaboration held a summit to discuss regional progress in improving health of area residents. Danville ranks as the 126th healthiest locality out of 133 across the state, and residents are three times less likely to meet daily fruit and vegetable intake recommendations, three times as likely to deal with issues of food insecurity, and about half as likely to meet physical activity recommendations. Using the socio-ecological model, Jamie Zoellner explained that individuals, interpersonal connections, policies, organizations, and community all contribute to a stew of circumstances and causes for health rankings. "We have to start thinking a little more strategically about what are the main outcomes that we're interested in targeting and figuring out ways that we can target with multi-level strategies," Zoellner said.

Farmacy Garden
A small resident of Christiansburg smells Holy Basil at the New River Valley Community Health Center's Farmacy Garden. In exchange for volunteering, her family harvests vegetables from the garden.


Zhiyong Cheng and Fabio Almeida discover link between insulin response and energy producer in pre-diabetic people. Publishing in Clinical Epigenetics, they discovered that pre-diabetic people who were considered to be insulin resistant--unable to respond to the hormone insulin effectively--also had altered mitochondrial DNA. They made the connection by analyzing blood samples taken from 40 participants enrolled in the diaBEAT-it program, a long-term study run by multiple researchers in the Fralin Translational Obesity Research Center and funded by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.  

Keely O'Keefe in Madagascar
In Madagascar, HNFE student Keely O'Keefe, at left, worked with translators such as Jumelle Tsifanay, at center, to communicate with local people about their diets. Photo by Hailey Boone.

HNFE junior and Fralin Fellow Keely O'Keefe examined diets of women and children in Madagascar this summer. Keely surveyed 138 mothers in 10 Malagasy villages with support from a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the Fralin Life Science Institute. Working with faculty member Alisha Farris, she interviewed mothers in Madagascar about diet diversity, which foods they view as healthy or unhealthy, food security, and access to markets, crops, and livestock. Keely and Alisha found that the average diet diversity score was about 6.5 out of 12, with a good diet diversity score being 9 or higher. They also found that many women and children had limited diets, a large portion of rice with a small green leafy vegetable on the side for every meal, because of the high cost of items such as poultry or fish and their distance from a market. TORC Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows: Back: Robert Fuchs, Jaeo Han, Peter Heise Front: Christine Koehmstedt, Taylor Vashro, Dimple Mozhi, Katie Wingfield

2105 SURF
TORC Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows: Back: Robert Fuchs, Jaeo Han, Peter Heise Front: Christine Koehmstedt, Taylor Vashro, Dimple Mozhi, Katie Wingfield

Thank you to our faculty who mentored the 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows:

Robert Fuchs (Samantha Harden): Systemic evaluation of physical activity level of youth at Northern Virginia 4H camp

Jaeo Han (Paul Estabrooks): Validation of exercise intensity of a publicly available fitness application

Peter Heise (Rob Grange): Cytochrome C content in skeletal muscles of mice trained on resistance running wheels

Christine Koehmst (Vivica Kraak): A systematic evidence review to inform an evaluation of the FNV campaign to increase fruit and vegetable sales and intake among teens and millennial moms in two U.S. cities

Taylor Vashro (Matt Hulver): The effects of high fat feeding on metabolic flexibility and pro-inflammatory stress kinases in skeletal muscle

Dimple Mozhi (Jamie Zoellner): Exploring relationships between subjective and objective health literacy measures and changes over time: outcomes from the Talking Health study

Katie Wingfield (Jay Williams): Total energy cost of competitive soccer


Life science researchers develop point system to help people drink their way to better health. There may be a better way to think about daily drinking habits that impact health conditions such as obesity and diabetes, according to a new study by Brenda Davy and Kiyah Duffey.


Ph.D. student Angie Bailey received a North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Teaching and Leadership Award, which recognizes individuals whose efforts represent the very best in agricultural higher education.

The Class of 2015: Student athlete and international student Carol Kahoun balanced class, sport, and service!

"School spirit doesn't exist in Europe, to have such a strong affiliation and love for a school," said Carol, who doubled majored in HNFE and psychology. It's hard to explain it to my friends and family back home. It is amazing that so many people know what Virginia Tech is."


Jessica Li

Senior Jessica Li was honored as Virginia Tech's Undergraduate Student of the Year! 

Jessica, who is a dual major in HNFE and Biological Sciences, is also minoring in chemistry and has maintained a 4.0 GPA while paying for her education through work and scholarships.

The recognition is the most prestigious non-academic undergraduate award given at the university and is awarded to a student who has exceptional and balanced achievement in academics, leadership, and service.

After just five days of eating a high-fat diet, the way in which the body’s muscle processes nutrients changes. Matt Hulver and colleagues Brenda Davy, Kevin Davy, Madlyn Frisard, and Ryan McMillan, along with former graduate students Angela Anderson, Kimberly Haynie, Kris Osterberg, and Nabil Boutagy, found that muscles’ ability to oxidize glucose after a meal is disrupted after just five days of eating a high-fat diet, which could lead to the body’s inability to respond to insulin, a risk factor for the development of diabetes and other diseases.


Governor McAuliffe announces school divisions in Southwest Virginia and Richmond to benefit from grant to fight childhood hunger. School families participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will receive an additional $60 a month in benefits during the summer. Families of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals but not enrolled in SNAP also will receive $60 a month to improve food security. In addition, one parent or other caregiver from each participating family will be encouraged to participate in a nutrition education program on shopping and preparing healthy food on a limited budget, conducted by VCE's Family Nutrition Program.

Congratulations to our recent CALS Award Winners:

HNFE CALS 2015 Alumni Ceremony
Debby Good, Charles & Ellen Coale, Carol Papillon, Katrina Piercy, Janet Johnson, Brenda Rohe, Matt Hulver, Heather Cox, and Janet Rankin at the CALS 2015 Alumni Awards Ceremony on March 20, 2015

Hall of Fame Award: Jim and Janet Johnson. This award recognizes volunteerism, advancement, and development efforts. Janet has worked tirelessly for HNFE and the college since retiring, and assisted our alumni transition from Human Sciences to CALS; she also helped coordinate HNFE's 50th anniversary. Jim was honored for his work with Virginia Cooperative Extension. Jim and Janet previously received the NAADA Ruby C. McSwain philanthropist award.

Jim and Janet Johnson, Alan Grant
From left, Jim Johnson; Janet Johnson; and Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Katrina Piercy

Outstanding Recent Alumna, HNFE & CALS: Katrina Piercy (Ph.D. '10) is the physical activity and nutrition advisor with the Department of Health and Human Services in the Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion. Lt. Piercy was a subcommittee lead for the development and promotion of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans and designs the My Plate guidelines. She also serves as a mentor and preceptor to students going through the visiting scholar program, and led, at the request of the Acting Surgeon General, the annual Physical Fitness Test Project for the almost 7000 members of the Public Health Service.

Outstanding Senior Alumna: Brenda Harmon Rohe (B.S., '66) is an outpatient registered dietitian for Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.

She has provided advisory support to the department's accredited dietetics programs, and her named scholarship has been awarded to 22 dietetics students planning to become registered dietitians. She also supports university alumni functions in North Carolina. Brenda was a member of the American Dietetic Association and held leadership roles in several associations in the dietetics profession. Additionally, Brenda has published recipes in Southern Living Magazine and Annual Cookbooks. 

Brenda's many contributions to health fairs and community events related to nutrition, weight management, diabetes, and heart health allow her to carry out the Virginia Tech motto "Ut Prosim."

Brenda Harmon Rohe


Debby Good's research on food choices and obesity was featured in VT News: nurture, not nature, could be a larger issue when dealing with the obesity epidemic.


Vivica Kraak was interviewed by NPR on her research on food advertising to children. "We know that when you don't have a media character on a food, vs. when you do have one, kids are going to choose the food that has the media character."

FNP's Farmacy Garden partnership with the Virginia Department of Health was mentioned by the Surgeon General in his visit to the Roanoke area in January.

Ecuador Winter 2014-15

HNFE students went to Ecuador during Winter Session 2014-15. Read the blog!

Corinna Coffin

HNFE senior Corinna Coffin was hooked the minute she entered her first obstacle course race, finishing first in a BattleFrog Race Series. This extreme racing requires strength and endurance to succeed, so her CrossFit and triathlon training have helped her place in several other events. At the 2014 Spartan Race World Championship, Corinna placed second in the Elite Female category. She will continue to train and compete this spring before joining the BattleFrog Race Series Pro Team in 2015.