Two faculty members with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have won a prestigious U.S. Department of Agriculture award for their work creating a graduate-level course that combines the three-part mission of land-grant universities: extension, teaching and research.
Karla Shelnutt, an extension nutrition specialist and assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences, and Gail Kauwell, a professor in food science and human nutrition, will accept the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture Partnership Award for Innovative Programs and Projects October 11 in Washington, D.C.
The pair collaborated to create a yearlong course, "Nutrition Education Program Planning, Development, Implementation and Evaluation." Under their guidance, the students plan, develop and implement research-based nutrition education programs, materials and media aimed at building and supporting healthful behaviors among consumers.
The most comprehensive project that the students complete each year is a nutrition education curriculum. Each curriculum incorporates experiential learning activities focusing on the USDA's food guidance system, physical activities, healthy snacks, and evaluation tools, among other components, and each lesson meets the Sunshine State Standards for academics. The students also train county extension faculty on how to implement the curriculum and collect evaluation data.
The students' coursework led to the development of three nutrition-related curricula used in classrooms around the state and 4-H and other extension programs: Youth Understanding MyPlate (YUM), Youth Understanding MyPlate Exploration Edition (YUM-EE) and Get Healthy Together.
"We're thrilled about this recognition for two of our talented faculty members who have worked so hard on this project," said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. "It's a wonderful example of IFAS' extension, teaching and research missions coming together to create something of great value to children's futures."
The program's impact has been vast: 16 graduate students completed the course; 25 UF/IFAS Extension faculty members and volunteers have been trained to implement the YUM-EE curriculum, which will be used in sixth through eighth grades in 2013; 99 UF/IFAS Extension faculty members and volunteers trained in the YUM curriculum, which has been implemented in 11 counties with plans for nine more by September 2013; and 39 UF/IFAS Extension faculty members and volunteers trained in the Get Healthy Together curriculum, which focuses on developing healthy eating habits among 7 to 10-year-old children and their caregivers.
Shelnutt and Kauwell have worked together before, and paired up again in response to new accreditation standards for UF's dietetic program. The UF/IFAS program is believed to be the only accredited dietetic internship program that has a concentration in extension, which provides dietetic interns with the knowledge and hands-on skills to communicate nutrition information to different audiences using a variety of formats.
The graduate students gain valuable experience from the program, creating educational materials and teaching everyone from preschoolers to adult extension agents, Shelnutt said.
Teaching the adults is the toughest part of the course, she said, and the pair spends a lot of time coaching students on how to best present themselves and their material.
"It's really intimidating for them," Shelnutt said.
But after all the coaching and revisions and practice, the extension agents who participate in the training enjoy it, Kauwell said.
"They love the students, they love their ideas-they have such original ideas and by the end, they know how to present them in a way that's really great," she said.