Virginia Tech®home

News from 2016


Loading player for

Graduate student Greg Donlon and some men’s basketball players visit Carilion Children’s hospital over the holidays.


HNFE senior Elizabeth Henry has been dedicated to helping others through her commitment to Operation Christmas Child. She was born in Ukraine and spent nearly all of her childhood in an orphanage. While there, she received a shoebox filled with goodies when she was 10 years old, and the gift left a lasting mark on her. Six years ago, Henry decided to commit herself to this mission, and during this time each year, she solicits friends, fellow students, fraternities, sororities, churches, university administrators, student organizations, and basically anyone and everyone to take part!

Elena Serrano was featured in WalletHub’s recent study about 2016’s fattest states in America, offering healthy eating tips on a budget and insight into obesity.


CIDER Teacher of the Week: The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research recognized Deborah Good, associate professor of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, for using student-based technology, accompanied by critical thinking exercises to increase student learning in all the courses she teaches.

Carlin Rafie was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Urban Agriculture Symposium conducted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Arlington Office. She presented "Eating Your Way to Better Health:  Cancer Prevention from the Garden."

Congratulations to HNFE junior Marcellus Creighton, who was one of 14 students awarded a Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellowship! Each Fellow receives $1,000 to conduct research with a Virginia Tech faculty mentor over the course of one academic year.


HNFE partners with the Campus Kitchen at Virginia Tech: the department has connected the nutrition expertise of our faculty and students to the Campus Kitchen and has allowed students to use kitchen space to add meal preparation to the ongoing food diversion efforts. The program has brought students, faculty, and staff from across campus together to talk about sustainable food practices. Student volunteers coordinate their operations with Dining Services, and faculty members can link course content to the program.


Replacing just one sugary drink with water could significantly improve health: If people replace just one calorie-laden drink with water, they can reduce body weight and improve overall health. “Regardless of how many servings of sugar-sweetened beverages you consume, replacing even just one serving can be of benefit,” said Kiyah J. Duffey, an HNFE  adjunct who is also an independent nutrition consultant.

Congratulations to Elena Serrano, who was named a Platinum Author by the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. During the preceding 10 years, she has been an author or co-author of more than 10 papers published in their journal.


Zhiyong Cheng discovered that the formation and expansion of fat cells was associated with an increase in autophagy, a normal physiological process in which cells remodel, break down, or recycle cell parts: New molecular mechanism suggests that people with obesity or insulin resistance may more easily accumulate fat

Virginia Tech professors look at food and nutrition choices through the lens of economics: George Davis and Elena Serrano are co-authors of a recently published book entitled, "Food and Nutrition Economics: Fundamentals for Health Sciences."

Elena Serrano
Elena Serrano

VT News: New molecular mechanism suggests that people with obesity or insulin resistance may more easily accumulate fat. Zhiyong Cheng discovered that the formation and expansion of fat cells was associated with an increase in autophagy, a normal physiological process in which cells remodel, break down, or recycle cell parts.

Cheng's research on identifying nutrition biomarkers for early stage prediabetes was also featured on the @VT Research Blog.  He and  collaborators from Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that changes in mitochondria, the main energy producer in cells, may be a better biomarker of early prediabetes than other diagnostic tools currently in use. Their results were recently published in the open access journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.  

Vivica Kraak
Vivica Kraak found that international entities have fallen short on agreements to restrict marketing of unhealthy foods to children and teens.

Policymakers fall short on global agreement to reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children:  While small steps have been taken by the global food and beverage industry to reduce the targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and teens, comprehensive measures to keep them from falling under the influence of such marketing efforts have fallen short of a World Health Organization resolution to reduce obesity.


HNFE student Erin Hamric of Pulaski, Virginia, was awarded one of six 2016 University Honors Odyssey Fellowships. Next summer, Erin, who received the Patricia C. Perna Fellowship, plans to experience how alternative medicine has been incorporated in treating illnesses and improving quality of life through shadowing experiences in integrated oncology treatment at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and acupuncture at Yo San University in Los Angeles, California. Students who apply to the fellowships design an experience, which typically includes travel (domestic or international), internships, shadowing, research, or other experiential learning opportunities.

FNP Summer Interns

FNP's Summer Hire Program: some of the tasks summer interns perform are scheduling and coordinating at designated sites, teaching food classes, demonstrating nutrition education at farmer's markets, and conducting SNAP outreach in the community.


Kent State

Attending a Q methodology workshop at Kent State University May 23-27 (taught by Steven Brown) were Aubrey Stephenson (MS), Tessa Englund (PhD), Taylor Brownell (MS), Vivica Kraak, and Mi Zhou (PhD). Q is a statistical mixed-method technique to explore different people’s unique viewpoints about a topic studied. Several students who attended plan to use Q methodology in their graduate work.

Vivica Kraak

Vivica Kraak attended the International Congress on Obesity in Vancouver earlier this month and gave two presentations: "Global progress achieved by the World Health Organization, Member States, and other actors to restrict the marketing of high-fat, sugary and salty food and beverage products to children" and "Progress Evaluation for the Restaurant Industry's Choice-Architecture Strategies used to Nudge American Children and Adolescents toward Healthy Food Environments, 2006-2016."  #ico2016

HNFE's Class of 2016 had one Commonwealth Scholar (Fariah Ishrat), one Honors Scholar (Isabel Hefner), 12 cum laude graduates, 40 magna cum laude graduates, and 15 summa cum laude graduates!

Taylor Allen

Graduating senior Taylor Allen was one of ten students featured by Virginia Tech that represent the Class of 2016. Taylor, who graduated magna cum laude, has never shied away from moving outside of her comfort zone. "There is so much value in experiencing different things. I have grown to be comfortable with being uncomfortable." Always embracing an adventure abroad, she will pursue a master of science in global health at Duke Kunshan University located in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, China this fall. She is "ready to be challenged and am beyond excited for any upcoming opportunity in China, for it will further cultivate my passion for global health, culture, and diversity."


Janet Rankin was a keynote speaker at the 32nd Annual SCAN Symposium and spoke on physical activity, health, and sustainability.


Ph.D. student Karen Strat won a gold award for one of the top presentations at VT's 32nd annual Graduate Student Assembly Research Symposium and Exposition: Beyond Boundaries and across disciplines! This unique event allows graduate and advanced undergraduate students to bring together ideas and research findings from different disciplines and showcase their scholarly pursuits and achievements.


Liz Parker

Alumna Liz Dennis Parker (B.S. '06, Ph.D. '10) was honored by the Maryland state Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as the "Maryland Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year." 

Liz is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine and Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.



Brenda Davy was featured in VT News: Virginia Tech researchers call for public water quality reports to directly address water safety.

Carly McDougall
Tanya Halliday

Carly MacDougall (M.S.) and Tanya Halliday (Ph.D.) were selected by CALS as the 2015-16  outstanding graduate students

Dimple Mozhi


HNFE senior Dimple Mozhi was one of 17 Virginia Tech students who presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in April at UNC-AshevilleHer poster presentation was "Relationships of subjective and objective health literacy measures: outcome of talking health safety."



Carol Papillon, Amy LaFalce, and HNFE's Dietetic Interns got to meet with Senators John Edwards and Adam Ebbin at the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Legislative Day on February 24. Also presenting at the event was Heidi Hertz (B.S. '04, Outstanding Recent Alumni '14).

Dietetic Interns
Dietetic Interns with Senator Ebbing

Vivica Kraak was awarded a Fulbright Scholar for the 2017 spring semester! She will teach a course at the Metropol University College in Copenhagen, Denmark on food and nutrition policy in the U.S. and conduct research to evaluate how institutions engage through voluntary public-private partnerships to develop trust and co-create synergy to form accountable and effective collaborations to reduce dietary salt in Denmark's food supply.

HNFE outstanding alumni for this year are Brenda Davy (B.S. '89, M.S. '92) and Kristen Chang (B.S. ’10, M.S. ‘11, dietetic internship '12).

Brenda Davy
Kristen Chang

Brenda Davy was interviewed by Sports Illustrated for the article, “Get Healthy in 2016: Dr. Brenda Davy on how to eat better and lose weight,” the first of a five part series on how to improve lives by eating, working, and living better.


Graduate student Edoardo Tessaro won the “Survivor Series” pre-qualifying tournament at the Delray Beach Stadium & Tennis Center. As a member of the Virginia Tech tennis team, Tessaro beat top-seeded five-star junior Alexandre Rotsaert 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-7) to win a wild card and a chance to play in his first ATP-level tournament.  


Alumni Carol Kahoun (B.S. ’15) was awarded one of three 2016 Weaver-James-Corrigan Awards, an ACC postgraduate scholarship. Kahoun was a member of the Virginia Tech women's tennis teams for three seasons before joining the coaching staff as a student assistant. She accumulated 32 dual-match victories, and a 16-8 doubles record in her career, earning the team's MVP in 2014. The Visp, Switzerland native has earned All-ACC Academic honors, as well as ITA Scholar-Athlete recognition. Kahoun was the recipient of the ITA Atlantic Region Arthur Ashe, Jr. Award for Sportsmanship and Leadership for her work in the community, including time spent working with the Montgomery County Christmas Store, American Cancer Society and the Virginia Tech Relay for Life planning committee. Kahoun earned ACC Top Six for Service recognition and served as the Virginia Tech SAAC president.


Ph.D. student Sallie Beth Johnson contributed a chapter on obesity to psychology professor Scott Geller's book Applied Psychology: Actively Caring for People. "We provided an overview of the obesity epidemic, its complex causes and consequences, and called for an AC4P approach to promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Johnson, who previously took Geller’s graduate course in large-scale applications of behavioral science. “Ultimately, I hope this chapter offers tangible steps and inspiration for more people to actively care for the health, wellness, and well-being of themselves and others.”


Nutrition Policy Seminar
Nutrition Policy Seminar

Participating in the 2016 Food and Nutrition Policy Seminar held in Washington, D.C. in January were Austin Brooks, Tessa Englund, Vivica Kraak, Aurielle Lowery, Taylor Brownell, Justin Morello, Brooke Chapman, Emily Myers, Kelly Dyke, and Aubrey Stephenson.  Topics discussed included developing and implementing science-based policy recommendations for a healthy diet and obesity prevention in the U.S., dietary recommendations as a basis for federal child nutrition programs, and international nutrition efforts to address obesity and non-communicable diseases.

Hepler Fellowship recipients for Summer 2016 are:

  • Dane Fausnacht: "Effect of age and other lifestyle factors on human satellite cell proliferation and differentiation"
  • Megan MacGhee: "Comparative effectiveness trial: LIFT vs. SSSH"
  • Zhipeng Tao: "The role of Sirt1 in adipose autophagy"

Jamie Zoellner's research fights obesity epidemic in Dan River
The area that stretches along the border of North Carolina from Patrick to Halifax counties known as the Dan River area has an almost 50 percent higher rate of diabetes than the rest of the country, a five percent higher rate of obesity, and 17 percent of the area’s residents live below the federal poverty line. One in four do not have health insurance. Health crises that seem to be spinning out of control for many communities across the country are writ large in this region. Fortunately, researchers at Virginia Tech are working on a solution to improve the health of residents of the Dan River area by developing a multi-pronged program called iChoose that aims to incorporate not just nutrition education, but exercise initiatives and community gardens — a multifaceted approach that could be used as a model to battle the obesity epidemic in similar communities across America.