The Master of Science in Community Health and Nutrition degree offered at Tennessee Tech University is providing one alumna the opportunity to build upon the foundation she started almost 20 years ago.
Mollie A. Mahan, a Cookeville native, completed her human ecology food, nutrition, and dietetics major in December of 2005 and completed her National HealthCare Corporation internship in May of 2006. She currently works for the State of Tennessee’s Women, Infants, Children program where she serves as a registered dietitian that covers four counties in the region. She is now in her second semester at Tech in the Master of Science in Community Health and Nutrition degree program.
“Hearing that Tech now offers a graduate Community Health and Nutrition program gave me so much hope that I could fulfill this aching desire to further my education,” Mahan said. “Tech is home for me so this program study being offered at Tech brings so much comfort.”
Mahan said she enjoys her current job in the healthcare field. However, she found her mind wandering back to school and wishing that she could continue her education. She heard about the new master’s degree program from her coworkers and colleagues in the healthcare field.
“It’s been a discussion among my friends and family for some time now, however, I kept finding reasons not to pursue the details,” Mahan said. “Motherhood calls for homework, sick days, late nights, early mornings, and taxi service to and from various activities.”
Mahan balances her current career with the time required to obtain her master’s degree with the support of her family. She said her family has been very accommodating of her busy schedule, and she has included her daughters, ages 12 and 9, in some of her projects.
“My family has been very helpful, my daughter's helped me take a video for one of my projects of a grocery store tour, and that really brought us together as a family,” Mahan said. “It's been great because we've been able to do these things together, and I think that just watching my children see me enhancing myself has been good.”
She also tries to stay ahead of assignment deadlines, that way if someone is sick or something keeps her from assignments, she does not miss deadlines. The online program allows the students to work ahead on most things.
“One of the best pieces of advice came from Dr. Hutson. She told me to utilize all pockets of time that I can. I have found that reading journal articles and completing other small tasks when I have small pockets of time makes assignment completion smoother,” Mahan said. “While my daughter is at her 30-minute piano lesson, I usually read assigned material and make quick notes on my phone.”
By completing the M.S. in community health and nutrition program, Mahan said she hopes to expand her knowledge of programs and evidenced based research of community health risk and programs. This will help her to strengthen her ability to assist with WIC participants.
“I’m also interested to see how health trends have changed throughout the years and what factors have contributed. Understanding health trends may help me with assisting families with goal setting and assessing barriers,” Mahan said. “WIC and public health nutrition is always evolving, and I hope to gain insight to best help the families that I work with.”
Mahan said one of her favorite aspects of her current role is helping new parents navigate their way through parenthood. Some tasks include providing basic nutrition assessment and nutrition education for WIC participants. Other tasks may include educating new parents on formula preparation, encouraging good oral hygiene, encouraging family time around meals, and any other patient centered goals.
Ensuring that our WIC families have access to all the resources they need to be successful is also top on her priority list, she said.
“Our community partners such as SNAP, Families First, Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the Stevens Center make ensuring that participants have other needs met possible,” Mahan said.
She also holds a current certification as a certified lactation counselor where she can help parent’s meet goals, address barriers, assess breastfeeding progress, and any other areas of need. Providing breastfeeding education to prenatal women is a critical step in successful breastfeeding and WIC contact visits make this possible, according to Mahan.
“During these visits, I am able to interact with prenatal women and families using many visual aids,” Mahan said. “Some include models that show infant stomach sizes as they grow and faux diapers that demonstrate stool color patterns of breastfed babies.”
Mahan said this master’s degree program at Tech is captivating, as it has so many topics she is focused on and the ability to explore one’s own areas of interest. She said that with the online program, it makes it so much easier for working professionals. When she was at Tech in the early 2000s, everything was done in the library where they would pull journal articles and books. Now the library has these resources at one’s fingertips, and it makes being able to explore multiple topics of interest effortless.
“I have these moments when I realize that I am actually doing this, and I am succeeding at it. I am learning so much about community health topics and have been able to share some of my findings with colleagues,” Mahan said. “This program is so very different from undergraduate work. It’s much more fluid and, for the most part, topics and projects feel meaningful.”
This program was designed for people like Mahan, practicing community health professionals who would like to learn more about rural community health and nutrition. It is also for those graduate students who want to complete the supervised experiential learning required to take the registration exam for dietitians.
“For me, beginning this program is exciting and scary. I don’t know specifically what my future holds, but I know that I am ready to start this journey. My children and husband are excited to see me grow professionally and gain overall confidence in myself,” Mahan said. “This is a wonderful program and the professors and colleagues of mine have been very supportive. It’s going to be a great experience but not without struggles. I’m excited to look back to see how I’ve grown academically and personally.”
For more information on the Master of Science in Community Health and Nutrition degree visit https://www.tntech.edu/cahe/hec/programs/community-health.php