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Nancy Parkinson: From passion to profession

Students go out into the real world and apply what they’ve learned in their nutrition classes to one of the programs Parkinson runs.
Students go out into the real world and apply what they’ve learned in their nutrition classes to one of the programs Parkinson runs.

Some people spend their entire lives trying to figure out what they want to be. For Nancy Parkinson, she knew before she even got her driver’s license.

“From age 13 I wanted to be a registered dietician,” Parkinson said. “After volunteering in a nursing center, I wanted to know who planned all the food according to somebody’s health needs. I just thought that was amazing.”

Before joining the clinical faculty at Miami University, Parkinson got her bachelor’s degree in food service management. This then led her straight to Oxford, where she took her first job out of college as an assistant dining hall manager at Miami.

Simply holding down the job was not enough for Parkinson, as she soon began to integrate her love for dietetics and sharing knowledge with students in a more unconventional way.

“I stayed in Hamilton dining hall after we cleaned up the kitchen and did little nutrition things [with students],” Parkinson said. “I was giving nutrition information and portion sizes and just talking about healthy eating in general, which is what I could do at that point.”

Staying after hours to educate any student who would listen about nutrition facts is just one example of why Parkinson said she has drawn comparisons to the Energizer battery Bunny. It’s not uncommon to find her thinking of or jotting down ideas, oftentimes scratching them out on any scrap of paper she can find.

After officially registering as a dietician and a stint in private practice, Parkinson heard about an opening at Miami for an opportunity to teach students. The idea of sharing the topic she’d been passionate about for so long with future generations made the decision a no-brainer.

“To impact future dieticians … that was exciting to me, that’s still exciting to me, and that’s actually what keeps me going,” Parkinson said.

Classes taught by Parkinson often coincide with her passion for showing the newest generations of dieticians the ropes. Students go out into the real world and apply what they’ve learned in their nutrition classes to one of the programs Parkinson runs on campus or in Oxford.

Ella Futch, a junior nutrition and dietetics major, works for the online pantry pick list program, one of Parkinson’s initiatives. Students or people in the community can fill out a form, selecting various healthy food options that they can then pick up for free. Futch, a soccer player at Miami, said student-athletes often need extra food to fuel their active lifestyles.

“I feel for student-athletes,” Futch said. “We have increased fuel needs, but then not every student-athlete is on a big scholarship. It's hard to make time to prep and to do all that stuff. So this makes it easy.”

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In addition to required class assignments that send students out to volunteer for her programs, undergraduate and graduate interns have the opportunity to work with Parkinson on campus. Jessica West, a sophomore nutrition major with a dietetics concentration, works with Parkinson part-time and is one of her students.

West said Parkinson’s passion for working with students and dietetics can be felt in and out of the classroom. 

“She really, really loves it,” West said. “And I think that definitely rubs off on her students, which is, I think, a very important part of being an educator.”

Showing no signs of slowing down, Parkinson still evaluates where she’s at each year and likes to make sure that she still feels “charged” about what she’s doing.

“I tell my students, if I’m not charged giving it, how are people gonna get excited about it?” Parkinson said. “You have to be excited about it.”