Nancy Rodriguez, professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, has mastered the art of balance. In addition to her teaching and research duties at UConn, she is a registered dietitian and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Rodriguez earned her bachelor’s degree in human nutrition and foods at Virginia Tech, then followed with an MS in nutrition and a PhD in biochemistry from West Virginia University. She spent the next two years as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, focusing on endocrinology and metabolism. While her primary appointment is in the Department of Nutritional Science, she holds joint appointments in both the Department of Kinesiology and Department of Allied Health Sciences. She is director of the sports nutrition academic minor and has been the Sports Nutrition Consultant to the University’s athletic teams since 2001. She served on UConn’s Institutional Review Board for the Use of Human Subjects from 2001-2008, chairing the committee from 2003-2008.
Rodriguez’s list of publications is an even longer than that of her academic achievements. She has published more than 25 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has a 25-year history of extramural grant support for her research. The USDA, National Institute of Health, the American Heart Association and the National Dairy Council are just some of her sources for funding.
Recently, Rodriguez was asked to join the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, which promotes programs and initiatives that motivate people to choose healthier, more active lifestyles. She believes the diversity of her work at UConn is one of the reasons she was chosen for the Council. “I have an interface between exercise, physical activity and nutrition, and I am able to bring some of those UConn experiences with me [to the Council].”
One of Rodriguez’s goals as a member of the Council is to draw attention to the idea that physical education should be a part of every school’s curriculum. When she was a student, physical education was a part of her daily schedule. In addition, all students were given a chance to play any sport that was offered. “Back then, there was a general acceptance for body shapes and sizes in PE that was important in terms of self-esteem and body acceptance,” she says. “Now, we don’t have any framework for self-acceptance. Everyone learns how to self-critique, but how do you learn self-acceptance?”
She believes that national extracurricular programs are great in theory. However, their potential impact may be lessened by a variety of environmental and educational factors. To teach children about health and exercise, Rodriguez believes the best way is to get them as a captive audience—at school. “PE is no longer mandated in school curriculums in the country,” she says. “If you want to say every kid should be active and moving, it should be embedded in the curriculum.”
Being a part of the President’s Council is a way for Rodriguez to work toward changes in Connecticut’s curriculum. “Let’s make Connecticut one of the first states that mandates PE back into the system.”
The other goal she hopes to accomplish by being a part of the Council is to bring recognition to the University and the state. “We have a tremendous number of faculty here who are extremely accomplished, whether it’s in engineering, nutrition, physiology or business,” she says. “I believe my service [on the Council] might also show that there are other things here [besides athletics] that will bring recognition to the University and to the state.”
Rodriguez’s her take home message is to keep it simple. “We’ve made being healthy way too complicated and it’s not an easy fix,” she says. “But I’m going to try and see if I can make a difference.”