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News from 2020


Department Head Dr. Stella Volpe was featured in two recent articles in Everyday Health: 10 Health Foods You May Want to Rethink in Everyday and "Why Dehydration Is Still a Risk During the Wintertime."

Brenda Davy's research on water and weight loss was featured in the Men's Health article, 30 Weight Loss Tips for Men as tip number two: drink the right fluids.

HNFE 5474 class

This fall, HNFE 5474 Human Exercise Testing, co-taught by Madlyn Frisard and Robin Queen from Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, had students preparing RO3 proposals along with an oral summary. Two group projects were "Analyzing the Biomechanical and Physiological Aspects of Gait Speed in Healthy Older Adults" and "The Effects of Physiological and Biomechanics Energy Expenditure Measures on Gait Speed." Students thoroughly enjoyed their presentations, faculty questions, and feedback!

Review panel:
Stella Volpe, Enette Larsen-Meyer, Laura Sands, Steve Poelzing, and Tom Ollendick

Quentin Nichols, Hassan-Galaydh, Mohamud Farah, Emily Jacobs, Theresa Libera, Julia Brisbane, Rohit Ramadoss, Nicole Stark, and Michael Teater

CALS Diversity Council award
Erin Ling (Chair of the CALS Diversity Counsel), Debby Good, Abby Steketee, Susan Chen, and Stella Volpe.

Stella Volpe, Debby Good, Abby Steketee, and Susan Chen were awarded the CALS Diversity Council award for their proposal, "Inclusive Pedagogy Through the Lens of Health, Nutrition, and Exercise." They plan on having a series of workshops for faculty and graduate teaching assistants that will focus on the goal of including the principles of inclusive pedagogy within their course curricula. One or more experts in health, nutrition, and exercise will facilitate each workshop, thereby enacting the departmental value of reducing and preventing health disparities among diverse populations.

Samantha Harden

Samantha Harden has been appointed by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute as a member of its Advisory Panel on Clinical Effectiveness and Decision Science. PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to fund research that will provide patients, caregivers, and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed health care decisions.

Kristen Chang was featured in the article, 4 Healthy Christmas Dishes That Fuel Your Rides (and Taste Great, Too!) published by Bicycling. For many, the winter and holiday season is also the off-season. So while that may mean fewer intense workouts, it also gives your body time to rest and recoup, Chang says. For me, the combination of more rest and extra fuel leads to breakthrough workouts,” she says, recommending people pair heavy dishes with lighter ones to balance everything out.

Cortney Steele

Cortney Steele, who completed her doctorate in August, was selected as the university's graduate student fall commencement speaker. She has accepted a National Institute of Health T-32 institutional training position at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension.  

The volunteer group Food Access for Students (created by graduate students Cortney Steele and Anurag Mantha in Civil Engineering), recently donated $10,000 worth of grocery-store gift cards to help efforts to address the problem of food insecurity. Anurag and Cortney were inspired to take action after learning how prevalent food insecurity was among their fellow students and co-founded the group in 2019.

Fall 2020 Cohort
From left to right: Kayla Airaghi, Andrea Bower, Mikayla Thomas, Jenny Litchford, Sara Luna, and Evita Huang

The inaugural graduating class of the Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics program completed the program in December 2020. Six stellar students demonstrated their resilience, grit, perseverance, and flexibility this year as they pressed forward to their ultimate goal of becoming graduate-trained registered dietitian nutritionists! We are extremely proud of the work, effort, and faith that they have put into our program over the past 17 months.

Class of 2020:

  • Kayla Airaghi, B.S. in HNFE: Science, Virginia Tech, 2019
  • Andrea Bower, B.S. in HNFE: Science, Virginia Tech, 2019
  • Mikayla Thomas. B.S. in HNFE: Dietetics, Virginia Tech, 2018
  • Jenny Litchford, B.S. in HNFE: Science, Virginia Tech, 2019
  • Sara Luna, B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics, Radford University, 2019
  • Evita Huang, B.S. Biochemistry, Virginia Tech, 2019

Brenda Davy was quoted in the article, "Rumor Has It: What's up with 5 weight-loss claims" published by The Free Library. Brenda responded to the claim that water consumption promotes weight loss (Claim: "Drinking a lot of water has long been a staple of weight-loss programs, in part because doing so makes you feel fuller," wrote the Washington Post in January.)


Sarah Misyak and Natalie Cook (Population Health Sciences) received the Diversity Incentive Fund award from the CALS Diversity Committee. They are using the funds to conduct a racial equity audit on the Virginia Family Nutrition Program (SNAP-Ed/EFNEP) and will be developing recommendations to improve practices that promote health equity as well as holding a VCE-wide webinar to describe the process.

Virginia Tech Internship in Nutrition and Dietetics Intern Lexie Davis is completing a rotation with Hokie Wellness, and she was featured on a recent "Ask the Dietitian" segment.

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HNFE faculty Sora Shin and Alex DiFeliceantonio were selected as part of the fourth class of integrated Translational Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) Scholars. The eight researchers from UVA and Virginia Tech will participate in a structured, two-year research training and mentorship program that emphasizes data science training and interdisciplinary research collaboration.

Stella Volpe with her dogs

Stella Lucia Volpe has been appointed head of the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Volpe comes to Virginia Tech from Drexel University, where she had served as chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences for almost 10 years. As an alumna of Virginia Tech, Volpe will advance the mission of a department that promotes health through discovery and learning through disseminating research in the nutrition, food, and exercise sciences. Her immediate goals for the department include enhancing alumni engagement; forming a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee; and developing a new strategic plan.

Validating Hydration Assessment Tools for an Athletic Population: An Effort To Prevent Dehydration
Recent doctoral graduate Samantha Kostelnik, who was a fellow with the Water INTERface Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program at Virginia Tech, has undertaken research that seeks to enhance athlete hydration. Her most recent study assesses two tools that are used to understand hydration, the BEVQ-15 and a urine color assessment.

Many faculty and students attended and participated in the Virginia Tech Chapter of Sigma Xi Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference in November. HNFE student Matthew Kocher, who works with Debby Good, was co-winner of the graduate student oral presentation competition for "Prader-Willi Syndrome associated non-coding RNA genes stabilize target RNAs." His research found a key gene whose deletion leads to PWS protecting target RNAs from degradation; this is the first time a molecular mechanism of the PWS-associated gene has been shown. Matthew was also science comedian Brian Malow. Other VT Chapter presenters included Joe Greico (a graduate student in Eva Schmelz's lab): "Dysregulated metastatic capacity of ovarian cancer spheroids in response to physiologically relevant media conditions;" Claire Morton (an undergraduate student who was inducted as a result of her high school work): a science art video; and Samuel Browning (a 2020 TOUR-Scholar and psychology major who works with Scott Geller): "A time series analysis of mood states during a pandemic: How a weekly gratitude letter influenced subjective well-being."


Samantha Kostelnik

Samantha Kostelnik recently completed the Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway of the Virginia Tech Internship in Nutrition and Dietetics and is now eligible to take the registration exam for dietitians. She is the fourth person to complete this pathway since 2014, which is a way to support individuals with doctoral degrees, or in the process of earning a Ph.D. from HNFE, to gain the R.D.N. credential. Samantha completed her Ph.D. in March 2020 with mentors Brenda Davy, Kevin Davy, Valisa Hedrick, and Travis Thomas.

Graduate students Erica Howes and Sonal Sathe were selected as Members of the Academy for Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence by the Graduate School for their commitment to excellence in teaching and learning.

HNFE student success highlights:
Science of Food Preparation (HNFE 3024) allows students to hone their culinary skills while exploring the role of key ingredients in foods. In the past, groups worked together to prepare food that is shared and sampled and then evaluated sensory attributes and objective measurements. This fall, students are working individually in lab spaces for an abbreviated period while following all public health safety measures. After each lab, all students share their experience through a Canvas discussion board, and through this platform, everyone is able to share what they did, how they did it, and what they learned related to food preparation, nutrition, health, and food-related values, beliefs, and attitudes. We are proud that our students have done a remarkable job executing their tasks efficiently and independently!
The pictures below are from a recent lab featuring high protein cookery where students made varied dishes that included lean red meat/beef, chicken, fish, edamame hummus, and a vegetarian chili. More pictures are on our Facebook photo album.

The Journal of Applied Physiology recently published Rob Grange's article, A novel ex vivo protocol to mimic human walking gait: implications for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a deadly disease affecting males, and muscles used for movements such as walking (gait) or going up and down stairs are easily damaged. Grange's research has developed a method that mimics human muscle movements during gait using muscles from a muscular dystrophy mouse. With this new method, they can determine what movements cause injury in mouse dystrophic muscles and then test these to correct the injuries. These treatments could ultimately be used to treat the disease and potentially increase the lifespan.

Angela Anderson and Debby Good had Self-perceptions of critical thinking skills in university students are associated with BMI and exercise published by the Journal of American College Health (abstract linked, full article to be released). Previously, they had shown that a higher BMI was correlated with a decrease in academic performance. In this study, their aim was to see if the introduction of active learning techniques would increase critical thinking skills and whether it would be equitable amongst differing BMIs and exercise levels. By using a blended class format and emphasizing the practice of problem solving, students increased in several areas of perceived thinking skills. However, those students with a higher BMI perceived that memorizing was the key to course success more so than normal weight students. They also perceived that they don’t see themselves as thinking logically. When examining exercise frequency, those who exercised five or more days a week perceived they had stronger thinking skills than those who exercised less frequently.

Stella Volpe was quoted in the Men's Health article, 6 Drinks That Deliver Sustained Energy for All-Day Movement.

Enette Larson-Meyer had several articles published recently:

She is also a newly appointed associate editor of Metabolism, Nutrition, and Recovery for the international journal Science and Medicine in Football.


Angela Anderson

Angela Anderson was recognized with a 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech. The award, presented by the center to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.

Kristen Chang

Hokie Feature: Kristen Chang
As a student at Virginia Tech, HNFE faculty Kristen Chang explored recreational offerings available, and joined the Triathlon Club. “Community can look very different in a lot of different ways. Get involved, find your people, surround yourself with them. Find ways to build yourself that sense of community, that’s what the Hokie experience is all about.”


VTIND Blacksburg Class of 2021
VTIND Blacksburg Class of 2021: Alexis Buchan, Sydney Wills, Kamryn Zimmer, Samantha Seay, Melissa Stewart, Lexie Davis, Maggie Sullivan, Rebecca Green, and Samantha Kostelnik.
VTIND Northern Virginia Class of 2021
VTIND Northern Virginia Class of 2021: Brooke Wiseman, Samantha Smith, Marin LaFrankie, Olivia Shah, Lauren Burkett, and Leah Hidalgo (not pictured: Travertine Garcia).

Sixteen individuals arrived August 24 to complete the nine month Virginia Tech Internship in Nutrition and Dietetics. They came from as far Vermont and Nebraska, Utah and Vermont! They are currently working in over 12 different practice sites with half in Northern Virginia area and half in the Blacksburg region. They are gaining broad experience to prepare them to be confident competent dietitians and leaders in the profession. The interns have been meeting for class weekly with in-person classes once a month and the rest of them virtually. A benefit of the expanded virtual meetings is that interns have collaborated with interns from the other site and can learn from our expert speakers that are unique to one of the sites.

2020 Summer TOUR Scholars

2020 Summer Translational Obesity Undergraduate Research (TOUR) Scholars: 
Last February, 10 undergraduate students were selected for the second year of a 10-week summer program built to launch students on a research career trajectory related to nutrition, physical activity, and obesity across the translational spectrum. The NIDDK-funded R25 is led by Debby Good and Samantha Harden, and the pandemic left them weighing the pros and cons for cancelling or holding an online option. In the end, they offered students and mentors three options 1) defer until 2021, 2) work virtually with their assigned mentor, or 3) work with either of them. Three scholars deferred and the remaining seven chose to participate.

One of the biggest challenges was whether the scholars would feel like a true group. However, from day one, the students were comfortable with technology and using audio and video options while engaging and sharing experiences. Each week, the group had a journal discussion based on an article selected by one of the scholars, a book discussion based on Ignorance: How it Drives Science (Firestein) and had external professional development guests and panelists. The students received TOUR scholar shirts to promote a sense of distinctiveness, had a virtual opening banquet, and used Canvas and GroupMe to communicate with each other and the program directors. Stellar mentors guided the students through 10 weeks of research on projects from literature reviews to genetic modeling to intervention delivery. Their work culminated on July 30 with an abstract and five-minute prerecorded presentation at the Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium.

Some of the scholars remarked that without this experience, they would not have had summer salaries or, as rising seniors, they would have lost their final opportunity for experiential learning. Debby and Samantha are grateful for the scholars and mentors and their dedication to obesity research. They are also grateful for internet connectivity, creative pedagogy, and all the panelists willing to share their time and talentsSummer TOUR Scholars, project titles, and mentors:

  • Natasha Gaito, “In silico analysis of the POMC promotor-role of methylation in environmental triggers of obesity” (Tim Jarome - APS and Debby Good)
  • Lauren Provinsal, “U.S. government progress to implement the Lancet Commission’s recommendations for the Global Syndemic of Undernutrition, Obesity, and Climate Change" (Vivica Kraak)
  • Sam Browning, “Variation in daily mood states during COVID-19: accessing the impact of a gratitude letter" (Scott Geller - Psychology)
  • Chloe Tenembaum, “The missing biomarkers of inflammatory bowel disease: identification of possible missense variants in the noncanonical NF-kB signaling pathway” (Irving Allen - Vet Med, Debby Good)
  • Lindsay McClain, “How rurality impacts availability and affordability of healthy foods in SNAP-authorized retail locations” (Valisa Hedrick)
  • Helen Oker, “The physical activity guidelines for Americans" (Samantha Harden)
  • Kaylee Greiner, “Where does marbling come from?” (Honglin Jiang - APS)

Cristina Rosano

HNFE alumna Cristina Rosano (B.S. ’15) was named to the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleading team
While at Virginia Tech, Cristina was on a dance team that performed during sideline and halftime routines for football and basketball games. Not only did she dream of being an NFL cheerleader, she also wanted to be an optometrist and graduated in May from Salus University’s Pennsylvania College of Optometry. She is now a full-time optometrist and hopes to eventually be involved with the Eagles Charitable Foundation, who partners with Vision to Learn to offer eye-care services to students in Philadelphia.


In recognition of the quality mentorship provided to graduate students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Brenda Davy received the Outstanding Mentor Award from Virginia Tech’s Graduate School.

Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approves 2020 promotions, tenure, continued appointments: Eva Schmelz was promoted to professor, and Samantha Harden was promoted to associate professor with tenure.


Sora Shin

Sora Shin, assistant professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and HNFE, studies how stress can induce psychiatric disorders. Her laboratory examines how stress alters brain circuits, causing lasting changes to mood, behavior, and, in some cases, overall mental health.

HNFE faculty and alumni contributed to a research study that showed most NCAA Division I athletes fail to achieve the recommendation to consume 500 mg DHA+EPA per day. The study highlights the opportunities to boost omega-3 intakes among this population for heart and brain health. Nutra featured the study in a presss release.  Researchers included  faculty Valisa Hedrick and Michelle Rockwell and alumni John Rockwell, Jennie Zabinski, and Samantha Kostelnik.


Alexandra DiFeliceantonio

Why is eating unhealthy food such a hard habit to break? Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, a faculty member at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and in HNFE, studies how modern high-fat, high-carb foods might be tricking the brain into intensifying reward and pleasure signals.

Matt Hulver

Matt Hulver became the executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech in April. In his new role, Hulver will shape the new vision and programs of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute by leveraging existing strength and developing a strategic plan to enhance resources for Virginia Tech’s life sciences community. Hulver will report to the vice president of Virginia Tech’s Office of Research and Innovation.  Hulver was previously assistant dean of health sciences and the head of the Department of the Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. He is also one of the leaders of the Center for Transformative Research on Health Behaviors located at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.


Josh Drake

Joshua Drake named assistant professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise
Drake, who joined HNFE at the end of December 2019, has a research focus on the relationships between mitochondria health, which are considered cell powerhouses, and the capacity for healthy aging. He is particularly interested in how damaged or dysfunctional mitochondria are targeted for degradation and how these processes may be negatively impacted by aging and age-related disease. Drake also studies how interventions such as regular exercise promotes healthy aging through stimulating mitochondrial health.

Stephanie Edwards Compton (left) and Susan Chen (right) were the co-chairs of the ComSciCon organizing committee. Carrie Kroehler (center), associate director for the Center for Communicating Science, attended and participated in many workshops. Photo courtesy of Alex Freeze.
Stephanie Edwards Compton (left) and Susan Chen (right) were the co-chairs of the ComSciCon organizing committee. Carrie Kroehler (center), associate director for the Center for Communicating Science, attended and participated in many workshops. Photo courtesy of Alex Freeze.

HNFE graduate students played a big part in the ComSciCon conference held at the end of February. Grace Davis co-led the "Your Research in a Nutshell" session while Stephanie Edwards Compton and Susan Chen were the co-chairs of the organizing committee. ComSciCon–Virginia Tech is a workshop series that gives young researchers the necessary skills to communicate their scientific research to broad and diverse audiences. Short for “Communicating Science Convention,” ComSciCon is designed by graduate students, for graduate students, in the hopes that they will be able to effectively share information with their nonscientific colleagues.

Debby Good

Debby Good was recognized with the inaugural Inclusive Excellence Fellow Award for her work supporting underrepresented students in STEM. The Inclusive Excellence program at Virginia Tech is sponsored by a five-year, $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Led by Jill Sible, the grant team includes Mike Bowers, Michele Deramo, Debby Good, and Sarah Karpanty.  Good is three years into a five-year commitment to the grant, and received the inaugural Inclusive Excellence Fellow Award at a reception at the Hahn Garden Pavilion on Feb. 4 this year.

Eva Schmelz and collaborators from the University of Virginia, Todd Bauer and Nathan Swami, were the recipients of one of four pilot projects funded by the Clinical and Translational Science Award partnership between Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Carilion Clinic, and Inova Health System. They hope to to create a new new tumor cell recognition technique, and their research, which will combine machine learning and electrophysiology, could one day help physicians pick the most effective chemotherapy regimen.

VAND 2020
Internship in Nutrition and Dietetics interns in attendance (from left to right) were Allison Hurst, Cat Hammer, Kea Schwarz, Kristin Weyenberg, Kristen Byrne, Tia Glover, Amanda Vega, Caroline Best, Sarah Anderson, Deep Patel, Clara Britton, Erin Morrison, Kelsey Coulter, Rachel Steinbach, Listya Suryani, Emily Solis, Shelley Palmer, Marion Irvin, and Niki Allen.

Internship in Nutrition and Dietetics directors Carol Papillon and Amy LaFalce and interns from Blacksburg and Northern Virginia participated in the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (VAND) annual Legislative Day in Richmond. Interns met with state senators and representatives about a variety of bills being considered by the General Assembly and learned how to advocate for food and nutrition policies that improve the health of Virginians.

Jessica Schultz

HNFE alumna Jessica Schultz (B.S. '12) manages Millstone Kitchen in Blacksburg, a fully equipped, shared-space commercial kitchen that may be rented for affordable rates. Though she graduated less than a decade ago, she is leading a bold vision through employing her passions for baking, locally-sourced agriculture, and connecting other aspiring entrepreneurs to support a symbiotic, grassroots model for commerce.  Read more about Jessica's journey and success in a CALS Magazine feature!


Mandy McGlynn

For just the second time in program history, the Virginia Tech women's soccer team had a student-athlete drafted as HNFE alumna Mandy McGlynn (B.S. '19) becomes the highest drafted women’s soccer player from Virginia Tech! She was the No. 20 pick of Sky Blue FC in the 2020 National Women's Soccer League Draft.  McGlynn was the only goalkeeper selected in the 2020 draft and now joins forward Jazmine Reeves as the only women's soccer players drafted out of Tech.

Jaylyn Thompson heads across the Atlantic to play for Zaragoza CFF

Recent graduate Jaylyn Thompson signed a professional contract to play for the Spanish club team, Zaragoza CFF, who competes in the Liga Reto Iberdrola in Spain.