Claudia Mejia is a determined individual. She concurrently navigated family life, an internship and the requirements of a coordinated master’s program in allied health. And then, right before graduation, she ran through unpredictable terrain and 30 obstacles in the 13-mile Spartan Beast Race. This contest purports to “test everything you’re made of: your strength, your endurance, your resolve” and “push you deep into your discomfort zone.” Here is what Mejia said about her experiences at UConn and beyond.
Where did you study as an undergraduate? What was your major? I completed my bachelors in nutritional sciences with a minor in food science in 2011 at UConn.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school? After working in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) for five years, I realized that I wanted to become a registered dietitian.
On January 1, 2024, the minimum required education level for prospective registered dietitians will be a graduate degree. Because I knew that, I decided to do this right away. I got accepted into the coordinated master’s program in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, which requires the didactic and supervised practice hours in order to become a dietitian and the completion of a master’s in health promotion.
Who is your advisor? My advisor is Assistant Professor Molly Waring, who is also director of the methodology core of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media.
What is your field of research? Although my plan of study follows a project and practicum track, I was involved in Dr. Waring’s research. My previous experience with women, infant and children and her interest in weight management among pregnant and post-partum women was a good match.
As my supervised practice helped strengthen my clinical knowledge, I became interested in diabetes and chronic kidney disease, particularly in end-stage renal disease. My graduate research project focused on patients receiving hemodialysis and the social media approaches that could help them. Under Dr. Waring’s supervision, I developed a survey to assess whether patients that are on hemodialysis might be interested in a Facebook group or mobile app to communicate with a dietitian to help them better manage their condition.
Name one aspect of your work that you like. I love the human interaction. A big part of being a dietitian is counseling patients regarding nutrition topics, healthy eating and disease prevention. Many times, patients are not ready for lifestyle changes, but they do still want to talk to you. This is when counseling skills come in handy because, just by listening, you might discover other issues that can come into play.
I also love that, as a dietitian, I could work in a variety of settings, such as schools, long term care facilities, hospitals, community/public health facilities, corporate nutrition programs, the food and nutrition industry, sports nutrition, business and research.
In your opinion, what is your greatest accomplishment so far? I have been able to balance a family life while doing my master’s and dietetic internship.
Also, I was selected for The John Milner Nutrition and Cancer Prevention Research Practicum in March 2019. This was quite an honor.
When do you expect to get your degree? What then? I got my masters in May 2019. We also had the pinning ceremony, which is when we are recognized for successfully completing the dietetic internship program.
Once I finish my practicum hours, I will dedicate 100 percent of my time to study for my registered dietitian exam.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? Yes. I am a Spartan. I love running Spartan races. However, because the coordinated master’s program is so intense and time-consuming, I couldn’t race for the past two years.
As my graduation present, I signed up for the Tri-State New Jersey Spartan Beast on April 27 and ran by myself. I finished the race in five hours and 21 minutes.
By Patsy Evans