Student Spotlight: Amanda Gelasi
Parkinson Scholar combines dietetic passion with interdisciplinary education
By Sam Uhlarik
From an early age, Amanda Gelasi found herself fascinated with the role food played in her daily life. That fascination has since grown into a budding profession as she prepares to graduate with a Master of Science in Dietetics from Loyola University Chicago’s Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health. We sat down with Amanda to learn more about her time at Loyola and how it led to her being honored as a Parkinson Scholar.
How did you get involved in dietetics?
I’ve been interested in nutrition from a young age. I am very privileged to have grown up with a mom that cooked dinner at home every night, packed my lunch for school every day, and made sure that I had healthy snacks to keep me going throughout my chaotic days of volleyball practices, track meets, band concerts, and more. The care and consideration she showed through these often under-appreciated acts laid the foundation for my interest in food and the role it plays in our lives. As I get older, I find that my passion for this field continues to grow as I encounter new people, new ideas, and new experiences. But throughout this crazy journey, I will always remember how it all started with my mom.
How does your work improve health outcomes or reduce inequalities?
Nutrition plays a major role in improving health at the individual, community, and global levels. Food insecurity remains a major issue in this country and around the world, and it is the job of nutrition and public health professionals to advocate for the most vulnerable amongst us, and work toward solutions that prioritize people over profit. These solutions are certainly not easy, as food insecurity is often the byproduct of much bigger social and political inequities, but it is crucial that we continue to rise to the challenge and fight for positive change. Access to safe, healthy food is a right, not a privilege, and it is time that we start treating it as such.
What interests you most about your research and field?
I think the most interesting aspect of nutrition is that there is still so much to be learned about how food impacts our health. Nutrition science became its own discipline just 65 years ago, and researchers continue to make new discoveries every day that change the way we approach this field. For my comprehensive exam topic, I am researching the biological mechanisms driving the double burden of malnutrition, which is a relatively new phenomenon that describes the coexistence of undernutrition and overnutrition in individuals, communities, and larger populations, which manifests most greatly in areas of rapid global development. A growing body of research suggests that certain biological factors across life may be contributing to the amplification of this health paradox, so I think there is tremendous opportunity for discovery in this topic.
What did it mean to be selected as a member of the inaugural cohort of Parkinson Scholars earlier this year?
I was so excited and so honored to be chosen for the inaugural cohort of Parkinson Scholars. The Ignatian value of being a “person for others”, which Robert and Betty Parkinson dedicated their lives to and embody wholeheartedly, is a value that resonates with me very deeply. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our communities to act in ways that benefit the greater good, and I feel that my fellow Parkinson Scholars exemplify this ideology to the highest degree. I am so lucky to have joined together with a group of amazingly talented and accomplished students whose values align with my own, and who I can learn from and be inspired by as I continue my education here at Parkinson.
How would you describe being a student at Parkinson?
I feel very at home at Parkinson. My peers are all so wonderful and supportive, and the faculty and staff are extremely knowledgeable and always willing to go the extra mile for their students. The pandemic and the turbulent political climate have made these past couple years very difficult for everyone. But being a part of an institution that prioritizes health and wellness and encourages students to be socially and politically aware has been incredibly fulfilling.
Is there a powerful story about your time at Loyola?
I think being a public health and health sciences student during a global pandemic that brought our world to a screeching stop is impactful in and of itself. I attended (on Zoom) my Loyola orientation while completing my undergraduate education in New York City, which at the time was considered the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States. With all the anxieties and uncertainties associated with the pandemic, there was no way of knowing what the next two years were going to hold as I moved to Chicago and began graduate school at Loyola. However, I immediately took solace in the company (albeit mostly virtual) of the amazing ladies in my cohort. Their support and their friendship have been insurmountable throughout this journey, and I am so excited to graduate with them in the spring.
What brought you to Loyola?
When looking at graduate schools, I knew I wanted to be a part of a program that took an interdisciplinary approach to dietetics, recognizing that nutrition is a vast and diverse field with countless opportunities for practice, research, advocacy, and more. Additionally, I wanted a program with strong values. Listening to the program director, Joanne Kouba, emphasize the dietetics program’s commitment to social justice really solidified my decision in selecting Loyola as my top choice school. I was so lucky to have matched with Loyola during the much-anticipated Dietetic Internship match day, and I seriously could not be happier with how my journey here has been so far. I will be sad to leave Loyola when I graduate in the spring, but I will also be a tad giddy, because six straight years of college has been tough, and I really need a nap.