With the fast-paced schedule needed to obtain three degrees from UConn in two CAHNR academic departments, Laura Kunces feels prepared for the job of keeping up with the nutritional needs of professional athletes and coaches. Here is what the nutritional sciences and kinesiology graduate told us about UConn and her current career.
What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? I graduated in May 2008 with a bachelor’s in nutritional sciences. I minored in nutrition for exercise and sport. In addition, I received two degrees, a MS in 2012 and a PhD in 2014 in kinesiology with a focus on low-carb diets and metabolism.
What class was most useful to you? When I was still a student, some of my favorite classes were Nutrition for Exercise and Sport, Medical Nutrition Therapy and the foods lab course. Now that I have more work experience, I recognize that other classes, such as Human Anatomy and Physiology and organic chemistry, have great relevance to what I do on a daily basis. Almost every class from graduate school has a direct link to my work now.
Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. When I was an undergraduate, one of the most memorable days was the dietetic internship match day!
Some of my fondest memories of UConn were from things I did outside the classroom, such as walking in the snow from the West Campus Residence Halls all the way to the nutritional sciences buildings and the Dairy Bar.
As a member of women’s varsity swim team, I spent hundreds of hours in the Wolff-Zackin Natatorium and made a lot of great friends and memories. I remember early morning practices followed by quick breakfasts, running to classes all day and going to evening swim practice and study halls.
I will never forget the cold windy weather, meals at McMahon dining hall, spring weekends, stressful finals week and all three of my graduation days.
In graduate school, I had amazing opportunities to travel for field studies and assist with lab studies. This drove my passion for educating athletes about nutrition and working with healthy populations who are seeking performance-related benefits. I am forever grateful for all of my professors and lab mates from kinesiology and nutritional sciences.
Please describe your current job. I currently work for a large Danish dairy co-operative called Arla Foods. (People in the United States know us for our cheeses.)
As head of performance nutrition research and development, I work under our parent company on a start-up project that designs nutritional supplements, which we personalize via genetics and the athlete’s needs and taste preferences. I interact with professional athletes and coaches, such as runners, triathletes, cross-fit participants and winter Olympians. With our food scientists, I translate the information we collect into a personalized system. I also get to work directly with the geneticists on customized DNA reports our customers receive.
In addition, I use my own and others’ research to make sure the ingredients are efficacious, and I communicate the results to scientists and consumers. My job involves traveling and conference attendance, which allows exposure to international culture, networking and learning from other companies’ business models.
As most start-ups do, I operate on a lean and fast team because I have to keep up with what the customer wants and how the science, economy and FDA requirements are changing. However, I also navigate through the policy and depth of a large company.
Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? Yes, I always thought I would be working with active people because of my sports background. I appreciate those who have the desire, motivation and willingness to make changes even when it is hard. In addition, I want to teach others about the importance of nutrition including when and how to use dietary supplements. This is really a dream job for me!
Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? Get involved! My professors told me that, and I wish I started earlier. I was lacking hands-on experience during my undergraduate days because so much of my time was devoted to swimming on the team.
I corrected that after I graduated. I volunteered. I worked long days and long hours. I never said “no” to any opportunity. Every experience will help you learn what you like or don’t like. You stay humble in the process.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I have a MS and RD in clinical nutrition from the University of Memphis.
My husband is also a UConn graduate (Electrical Engineering, ’06, ’10, ’13). It is true that some people you meet at UConn will be in your life forever! Although we live in Scottsdale Arizona, we still bleed blue!
By Patsy Evans