Joined USJ: 1994
Timing is everything. As Meg Gaughan was gaining her footing in the nutrition field, the public’s interest in all-things-nutrition was growing exponentially. “It had been a field that emphasized working with sick people in hospitals, and on their dietary and nutrition needs. Now it was becoming a field focused on healthy people, and how they could impact their health with the decisions they made.” People began to understand more fully the connections between lifestyle, diet and health risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. That sea change has intensified as greater attention is being paid to pediatric obesity and a range of public health strategies worldwide.
“It’s a very exciting time to be in nutrition,” Gaughan points out. “Years ago, we were voices in the desert as nutritionists. Now people are not only listening, they’re looking for more.” And that provides unprecedented opportunities for students. They can do so many different things with nutrition now for careers. They can work in a variety of settings, and they can even start their own practices. There is a lot of cross pollination with other fields, which has tremendous potential. Anywhere there is food, you can find a career.”
Teaching was not her original plan. She attended a small Catholic-tradition college in her home state, planning to be a dietitian, following somewhat in the footsteps of her father, a health care administrator. Her first job out of college was as a clinical dietitian, but it became evident before long that “it was not the right role for me.” She stumbled into teaching when she filled in for a college instructor friend for what she thought would be just once. There was an instant connection with the classroom. She loved the profession, but less so the hospital. Having been interested in nutrition well before it became fashionable, she was especially fascinated by the implications for hearth health. Academia — and the chance to instruct and inspire students embarking on a career, sharing her background and current practice — was precisely the right fit.
Gaughan has contributed to moving from a clinically-focused curriculum to one that prepares students for a range of careers. New courses have been developed, and a new track added alongside the traditional registered dietitian pathway. Gaughan’s pursuits include health coaching, and her instruction encompasses teaching new models, such as motivational interviewing, which seeks to find intrinsic motivation to achieve individual goals. A skills-based teacher, Gaughan provides students the tools to listen, reflect, and then act. “I give them actual skills, to think on their feet, create and evaluate.” She is also director of the Nutrition Education Team (NET), in which students pursue course-based and service learning in the community, reflecting the “outward focus” of nutrition students. The prevalence of health conscious content in the media — and throughout social media — adds to limitless career possibilities for students, encouraged by an enthusiastic and empowering educator.
Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University
M.S., Framingham State College
B.S., Marywood College