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News from 2021


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Amy LaFalce was interviewed about the Virginia Tech Internship in Nutrition and Dietetics for the RD2Be Podcast that aired in December.

Dr. Jeff Stein leads a study of a low-cost way to help patients with Type 2 diabetes better manage the disease by thinking about personal experiences that will occur in the future, a technique researchers call episodic future thinking. The research is funded by a $990,000 grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. Learn more.

Julia Basso (left) and Rachel Rugh work together at New River Moving Arts in Blacksburg. Basso, a new iTHRIV Scholar, is currently developing a project to study the effects of dance on social skills, behavioral, and neural synchrony in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Julia Basso (left) and Rachel Rugh work together at New River Moving Arts in Blacksburg. Basso, a new iTHRIV Scholar, is currently developing a project to study the effects of dance on social skills, behavioral, and neural synchrony in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

Researching the clinical utility of dance for autism: Assistant Professor and iTHRIV Scholar Dr. Julia Basso is using electroencephalography to record brain activity while studying the clinical utility of dance for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

Department Head Dr. Stella Volpe was selected for the USA Field Hockey's Women’s Masters Indoor Field Hockey Team. The team will play in the World Cup in February 2022 to be held in Virginia Beach. Dr. Volpe was also part of the 2018 Women’s Masters Outdoor Field Hockey Team, who played in the World Cup in Barcelona, Spain.

Dr. Kevin Davy received a teaching lab grant from the Office of Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

Dr. Matt Hulver joined Arizona State University as vice president of research effective Dec. 6.


VT Women's Soccer game
By using fractal analysis, David Tegarden and Jay Williams are investigating whether a player’s training load leaves evidence, or markers, that are predictive of potential future injury.

By using concepts developed from business analytics, Dr. David Tegarden from the Department of Accounting and Information Systems and Dr. Jay Williams are working with Virginia Tech Women's Soccer to investigate factors that predict potential future injuries. Learn more.

Dr. Stella Volpe was featured in the Wall Street Journal article, Only have 20 minutes? Three short workouts to squeeze in during the holiday rush. Stella suggested integrating more movement into the daily routine, like parking farther away at the grocery store, taking the stairs, or adopting healthy rituals the whole family can participate in, like dancing every commercial break of a football game or going on walks after meals.

Dr. Brenda Davy's tip to "Drink the right fluids" is number two in The 32 Best Ways to Lose Weight—and Keep It Off in Men's Health.

Alumnus Jeb Dunkelberger '12 and Department Head Dr. Stella Volpe held a fireside chat at the Inn at Virginia Tech on the evening of November 12th: A Discussion on the Current State of the U.S. Healthcare Sector. A reception was held afterwards, allowing students and faculty to engage.  


Alumna Erica Memoli, MS, RD, CNSC was highlighted by the Virginia Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics as the Member Spotlight. Erica is the former student of Dr. Valisa Hedrick and works as a clinical research coordinator in the Department of Pediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Dr. Sora Shin was awarded an iTHRIV pilot study and will collaborate with Michael Scott at the University of Virginia School of Medicine to determine the neural circuitry involved in self-harm behaviors that are modified by early life trauma in mice.

In new findings published in Neuron, neuroscientists at the University of California San Diego and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC singled out the specific brain circuit that triggers cocaine relapse in mice. The research team, which includes co-author Dr. Sora Shin, began the five-year study by examining changes in brain chemical levels after a prolonged period of withdrawal from cocaine. Read more

Dr. Alex DiFeliceantonio was awarded an iTHRIV’s Pilot Translational and Clinical Studies Program grant.  She proposes to test the fidelity of gut-brain signaling to see where signal deterioration occurs across a range of body mass indexes and in states of altered metabolic heath.

Lisa Shires is the new CALS Staff Association (CALSSA) representative for HNFE. The CALSSA serves to communicate issues and information between staff, administration, faculty, and students; serves as a forum for staff to express their views; and encourages staff participation in college activities, policies, and shared governance.

Dr. Valisa Hedrick (along with Drs. Tanya Halliday, Brenda Davy, Jamie Zoellner, and A. Hope Jahren) had A Single-Carbon Stable Isotope Ratio Model Prediction Equation Can Estimate Self-Reported Added Sugars Intake in an Adult Population Living in Southwest Virginia published in Nutrients.

Dr. Vivica Kraak published a perspective paper in Advances in Nutrition on policy implications for alternative protein plant-based and cell-cultured products in the U.S.: Unpacking the wicked challenges for alternative proteins in the United States: can plant-based and cell-cultured food and beverage products support healthy and sustainable diets and food systems?

Dr. Vivica Kraak co-authored an article published in Boston Hospitality Review with Assistant Professor Eojina Kim from the Pamplin College of Business: Restaurants can innovate and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Sarah Misyak was voted in as one of the two new co-leads of the ASNNA (the national SNAP-Ed Implementing Agency Association) Evaluation Committee.

Learn more about the significant accomplishments the Martinsville community has made over the last three years through efforts of the Engaging Martinsville Team! This project, funded by an Americorp grant, is the work of Dr. Carlin Rafie and collaborator Dr. Emily Zimmerman from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Dr. Abby Steketee, Dr. Susan Chen, HNFE graduate student Rachel Nelson, Dr. Vivica Kraak, and Dr. Samantha Harden had A mixed-methods study to test a tailored coaching program for health researchers to manage stress and achieve work-life balance published in Translational Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stella Volpe was named to the Editorial Board for Metabolic Physiology, Frontiers in Physiology and presented on Fueling the Athlete for Top Performance, October 22, 2021 via Zoom in Argentina for International Day of Excellence in Sports Medicine.

Doctoral student Sarah Lynn will be a Fellow in the Academy for Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence (VT GrATE). VT GrATE is a mentorship organization that supports graduate teaching assistants and has three levels of membership, with Fellow being the highest level. Sarah has dedicated over 20 years of her life to teaching both in the public school system and yoga studios. As a VT GrATE Fellow, she will continue to learn and mentor others about teaching and learning.

Undergraduate student Jessica Melvin was awarded an undergraduate research grant from the Cayman Biomedical Research Institute for her project, "How to motivate your muscles: analysis of factors affecting muscle growth and differentiation." Jessica is mentored by Dr. Deborah Good.

Alumna Dr. Brandy Cowen Phipps '00, a research assistant professor at Central State University, recently received a $10 million USDA grant for a sustainable agriculture systems project.

Alumna Cathy Woteki was recently named as one of 30 members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) by President Biden. PCAST is the sole body of advisors from outside the federal government charged with making science, technology, and innovation policy recommendations to the President and the White House.

Virginia Fresh Match is an incentive program designed to help individuals who use SNAP, formerly called food stamps, stretch their money at farmers markets. For example, a shopper who spends $10 with their EBT card receives another $10 to buy fresh fruits and veggies. "Everyone loves this program, said Meredith Ledlie Johnson, a project associate with Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Family Nutrition Program. "Many families on SNAP are running out of their benefits by the end of the month, so any way that we can assist them with stretching their food budget is beneficial."

Nicolin Girmes-Grieco was awarded an $1800 grant from the Office of Undergraduate Education to purchase items for the food labs.

Dr. Valisa Hedrick, Molly Parker, and Dr. Brenda Davy had Preliminary assessment of the Healthy Beverage Index for U.S. Children and Adolescents: A tool to quantify the overall beverage intake quality of 2- to 19-year-olds published by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Alumna Erin Palinski-Wade was featured in the Women's Health article, Are there any vitamins that actually help with weight loss? A dietitian weighs in."

Dr. Sarah Misyak was one of three faculty and staff members awarded the college's Diversity and Inclusion Service award. Read more.


Congratulations to FNP's Angela Duncan, who was honored with the college's September Employee of the Month Award!

Dr. Stella Volpe:

  • Was quoted in Men’s Health about zinc and immune function on September 28, 2021. Read the article.
  • Presented "The Mediterranean Diet and Sports Performance" at the Mediterranean Diet conference at the University of Notre Dame on September 22, 2021,
  • Presented "Food-based Supplements for Performance" via Zoom to Sister Nivedita University, West Bengal India, on September 29, 2021.

Drs. Sarah Misyak and Elena Serrano presented at the Virginia Department of Social Services Lunch and Learn series for over 100 employees on Food Security Status in Virginia during COVID-19 on September 9, 2021, based on two surveys conducted during the initial two peaks. The results mirrored national studies indicating that very low food insecurity increased. Additionally, households with children suffered more from food insecurity. The results were used in testimonies to increase the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which will undergo its first cost adjustment since its inception in 1975. Dr. George Davis also contributed to efforts to revisit the TFP. In October, SNAP benefits will increase accordingly.

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What has HNFE Alumni Tom Chittenden (Ph.D. '02) been up to? CALSAO board members recently spent time with previous recipients of the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award between 2006 and 2011. The "Where are they now?" videos spotlight these outstanding individuals to provide a networking resource for alumni and a repository of career paths for students as they map out their future.

Dr. Josh Drake's paper (a joint venture with Dr.Zhen Yan’s lab at the University of Virginia), "Mitochondria-localized AMPK responds to local energetics and contributes to exercise and energetic stress-induced mitophagy," has been published by PNAS.

Dr. Julia Basso has two new publications on neurobehavioral processes underlying obesity: A novel model of obesity prediction: Neurobehaviors as targets for treatment and Temporal discounting as a candidate behavioral marker of obesity. She was also awarded an iTHRIV Scholarship to examine the clinical utility of dance to support social skills and enhance behavioral and neural synchrony in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.



FNP administrative team meeting Summer 2021

The Family Nutrition Program recently held its first in-person administrative team meeting in Lynchburg to strategically plan for the next fiscal and programming year for EFNEP and SNAP-Ed. Pictured above from left are Shevonne Newby, Area Coordinator (AC), SE-Jamestown District; Danielle Smith Jones, AC, SE-Airfield District; Sarah Misyak, Assistant Director, Program Manager of Evaluation and Reporting; Gina Moore Kindred, Associate Director, Program Manager of Field Operations; Karrin Cordova, AC, Northern District; Stephanie Diehl, Program Manager, Volunteer-Led Initiatives; Meredith Ledlie Johnson, Program Manager, Policy, Systems, and Environmental Initiatives; Anne-Carter Carrington, AC, Central District; and Nicole Swinson, (new) AC, Southwest District. Not shown: Johanna Hahn, Trainer; Meghan Garrett, EFNEP Coordinator for Virginia State University; and Elena Serrano, Director, FNP.

Dr. Carlin Rafie, alumna Dr. Kathy Hosig and Dr. Kristina Jiles, and retired faculty Dr. Eleanor Schlenker collaborated on Implementation and outcomes of the Balanced Living with Diabetes program conducted by Cooperative Extension in rural communities in Virginia, which was published by Rural and Remote Health.

HNFE doctoral students Matt Brisendine (mentored by Dr. Josh Drake) and Jacob Bond (mentored by Dr. Siobhan Craige) had their journal club article, "A Glimpse Into The Early Window of Muscle Unloading," published by the Journal of Phyisology.

HNFE doctoral student Erica Howes, MS, MPH, RDN, who is mentored by Valisa Hedrick, received the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation’s 2021 Patsyjane O'Malley Memorial Scholarship. This award provides $1,000 for the 2021-2022 academic year.

HNFE doctoral student Trisha Sterringer, mentored by Enette Myer-Lawson, received a scholarship from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

HNFE doctoral student Kalyn Specht, mentored by Dr. Siobhan Craige, received a travel award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for her submission of an NIH pre-doctoral fellowship application.

SNAP benefits adjustment a game changer, according to Dr. George Davis. "For many low income families, this will mean they will now have adequate financial resources to put a healthy meal on the table for their families," said Davis. "While this is a great start, there is still a significant ways to go to reach the cost of a nutritious diet for many families."



Dr. Sarah Misyak was awarded a CALS Diversity and Inclusion Service Award. This award was established in 2006 to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of faculty, staff, and students who exemplify excellence in advancing the CALS mission of promoting diversity and inclusion.


2021 SNAPshot: Food Insecurity in Virginia during COVID-19 was developed by faculty Dr. Sarah Misyak and Dr. Elena Serrano and doctoral student Sonal Sathe. The report was used by the Virginia Department of Social Services in both state and national testimonies to request more funding for SNAP and changes to the thrifty food plan.

Incoming doctoral student Niloufar Amiri (faculty advisor: Josh Drake) was recently awarded a four-year Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science Doctoral Scholar Fellowship. She is only the second HNFE student to receive the fellowship, one of 10 given this year.

Mary K. Korslund

Associate Professor Emerita of Human Nutrition and Foods Mary K. Korslund passed away on April 29, 2021. In 1964, she began a 31-year career with our department and retired in 1995.

Dr. Julia Basso was awarded an integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV) Scholars Program Mentored Career Development Award for her innovative proposal on using dance to support social skills and behavioral/neural synchrony in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

Caitlin Bowman

Caitlin Bowman was named as the 2021 Outstanding Senior for our department, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the VT Honors College!  Her experience at Virginia Tech, like many others, started in one place and ended in another. But her path through Virginia Tech including majoring in HNFE, minoring in psychology, and being a student in the Honors College, was one that led her perfectly towards her future as a clinician and researcher. Learn more about her and her future plans!

Marc Lewis in Lane Stadium
“I’m getting my Ph.D. 45 minutes from where I was homeless and from where I was abandoned as a baby in a trailer,” Marc Lewis said. “It’s surreal to be able to do this.” Photos and story by Max Esterhuizen for Virginia Tech.

For doctoral student Marc Lewis, graduation is much more than a degree. After a difficult childhood and challenges in foster care, being homeless, and serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, Marc's perseverance and love for Hokies football helped him accomplish his dream of pursuing a degree in exercise science. Read the rest of his remarkable story!


Congratulations to three of our undergraduate students, who were named as officers for the Virginia Tech Rescue Squad!

  • Lydia Kuo, parliamentarian, a rising junior
  • Ansley Pfeiffer, member-at-large, a rising senior
  • Lauren Yarnall, administrative captain, a rising senior

The all-student-run Virginia Tech Rescue Squad, which responds to around 1,200 emergency calls on the Blacksburg campus in a typical year, performs the same functions as a municipal rescue squad.

The CALS Alumni Organization held two HNFE Alumni and Stakeholder Forums (Foods and Dietetics, Exercise) with Department Head Stella Volpe. Each forum included a special introduction by Dean Emerita Janet Johnson, a program from Stella highlighting her background and vision for the future of HNFE, and an open discussion with attendees. Both sessions were recorded and will be shared by the college.

April 2021 Dietetics Program Highlights
We are excited to share the successful application activities and outcomes from the three HNFE Dietetics Programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).

Joe Grieco was awarded a National Institutes of Health Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award to support his research on ovarian cancer. He is a translational biology, medicine, and health graduate student mentored by Dr. Eva Schmelz.

Kalyn Specht, mentored by Dr. Siobhan Craige, received an ACSM Foundation doctoral research grant for her research proposal, Nox4 mediates mitochondrial remodeling in skeletal muscle. Drs. Siobhan Craige and Josh Drake are co-mentors on the grant.

Azin Pourkhalili, mentored by Carlin Rafie, received the Futures Board Research Scholarship from the Center for Gerontology. She also has been accepted into the Fralin Biomedical Commercialization Fellows cohort.

Dr. Michelle Rockwell has a research study looking into how social media misinformation influences people’s intention to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, especially those within the Appalachian region, with help from a grant funded by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the Data and Decisions Destination Area. Her collaborators, who come from a variety of disciplines (and include Dr. Jeff Stein and Jeremiah Brown from HNFE), are hoping to learn what misinformation was being spread, but also how health care and public health stakeholders could combat misinformative posts.

Research on Duchenne muscular dystrophy by Dr. Rob Grange and veterinary student Kate Bukovec may lead to better treatment options. Mimicking human muscle function from dystrophic patients in a dystrophic mouse muscle in the lab could lead to enhanced treatment methods in patients.


Dr. Sora Shin received a New Faculty Mentoring Grant from the Provost's Office.

Dr. Stella Volpe served on the LEADERS IN CALS: A Conversation with women in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences panel on March 9th.

Dr. Stella Volpe presented virtually at Hampton University for the HBCU Sports Science and Wellness Virtual Research Summit with Shernita Lee from Virginia Tech on March 22, 2021.

Dr. Stella Volpe was on the Health Sciences Panel for Ujima Living Learning Community on March 31, 2021.

Doctoral student Rohit Ramadoss and Dr. Stella Volpe wrote a blog, Nutritional Strategies for Healthy Aging, for the American College of Sports Medicine's American Fitness Index (AFI). Stella is chair of Rohit’s committee and of the AFI committee.

The research of Dr. Eva Schmelz and doctoral student Joe Grieco was featured in Oncology Times on March 5th:  Ovarian Cancer Cells Adapt to Proliferate in Peritoneal Cavity.


Dr. Vivica Kraak presented "Actions to Foster Healthy, Resilient & Sustainable Food Systems and Promote Health for People and Planet" during the ISCE Virginia Tech Policy Destination Area on February 17th as part of their "Policy, Technology, and Society" seminar series.

Academic Advisor Kevin Wogenrich received the Southeast Association of Housing Officer’s (SEAHO) Academic Collaboration Award for his work as program director of Meraki.

Ryland Webb

Dr. Ryland Webb, professor emeritus and former head of the Department of Human Nutrition and Foods from 1973 to 1982, passed away on February 23, 2021. Read more about his career and accomplishments.

Dr. Young Ju’s Introduction to Integrative Health (HNFE 2334) course was designated with the Global System Sciences attribute.

Dr. Stella Volpe was selected to be on the Executive Board of the newly developed Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences, a non-profit organization that catalyzes science for the benefit of public health.

Presented by HNFE faculty Heather Cox, alumna Emily Massi, and MSND student Katie Smith, Healthy Habits: Busting Myths and Creating Balance is a presentation on learning how to digest diet information into sustainable habits.

Newborn specialist and HNFE alumni Dr. Dustin Flannery (B.S. ' 07) had his research featured in the CNN article, Babies get Covid-19 antibodies from mothers while in the womb. An attending neonatologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Flannery and his colleagues studied more than 1,400 mothers and newborns and found that protective COVID-19 antibodies were transferred across the placenta in 72 out of 83 infected, or previously infected, pregnant women studied. He received a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2011 and a Master's degree in Clinical Epidemiology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019.

2021 GOI Fellows

Dr. Stella Volpe and Dr. Enette Larson-Meyer were selected to be part of the 2021 Global Opportunity Initiative Fellows. This year, ten Fellows from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine will participate in this cohort-based faculty development program geared towards capacity building, network development, and building teams to pursue global initiatives. Each of the Fellows will contribute their unique skills to address the 2021 GOI theme of strengthening food systems for food security, health, and community vitality.

HNFE 3034 Lab

Students in HNFE 3034 Methods of Human Health Assessment were provided with lab kits to help with at-home learning! These included a urine collection cup, a dipstick (glucose, protein, etc. in urine), pedometer (step count), and a plastic skin fold caliper and tape measure to augment online laboratory activities focused on assessing biomarkers of health and hydration, physical activity, and body composition.

Formed in 2019, Meraki is one of the newest stars in Virginia Tech's constellation of living-learning communities. These residential halls provide valuable experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Each community possesses its own theme or academic specialization. At Meraki, the goal is to help students become the best versions of themselves by being dedicated to the well-being of mind and body. Meraki, featured in the 2021 issue of CALS Magazine, is led by HNFE academic advisor Kevin Wogenrich. Doctoral student Sarah Lynn was mentioned in the feature, and several of our students were quoted. The community is a partnership between The Cook Counseling Center; HNFE; Hokie Wellness; Housing and Residence Life; Recreational Sports; Schiffert Health Center; Services for Students with Disabilities; and Student Affairs Well-Being.


Dr. Julia Basso had an article published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Dance on the Brain: Enhancing Intra- and Inter-brain synchrony.

Dr. Vivica Kraak says the combination of obesity, food insecurity, and COVID have increased children’s risk of poor diet quality and increased obesity in the feature: COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates concerns of childhood obesity nationwide

Dr. Brenda Davy offers the following lifestyle advice for improving well-being and keeping health resolutions: Cook at home, drink more water, and get outside to improve your well-being.

cutting broccoli

Virginia Tech nutritionist and registered dietitian Dr. Carlin Rafie weighs in on fighting COVID-19 with nutrition and healthy living on WTKR and in Virginia Tech News.

Dr. Eva Schmelz's ovarian cancer research was featured in Frontiers: Ovarian cancer cells adapt to their surroundings to aid tumor growth.

Doctoral student Erica Howes and Dr. Valisa Hedrick were featured in a recent issue of Weight Management Matters Newsletter, "Weight Stigma: Challenges and Opportunities for Progress in Weight Management during COVID-19 and beyond."