North Central to offer new nutrition science undergraduate program
North Central College is offering a new bachelor's degree in nutrition science starting this fall, aligning with its strategic plan to expand health professional programs on the Naperville campus.
The major, which is a didactic program in dietetics, is designed to prepare students for internships and the registered dietitian nutritionist exam, while also opening the door to a variety of career and education tracks in a growing industry, said Kim Milano, visiting assistant professor of health sciences and director of the nutrition science program.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the employment of dietitians and nutritionists will increase 8% through 2029 -- "much faster than average," it says.
"There's a demand for nutrition graduates," Milano said. "There's (more) awareness that nutrition can really enhance health, both in preventing diseases from occurring and in treating them. ... It's the idea that food is medicine."
Building the major from the ground up has allowed North Central officials to get creative with course requirements and work experience, Milano said.
One class, for example, will focus on how food systems in the U.S. impact health, she said, while another will teach sustainable gardening practices. Students will visit food banks, prepare meals in the dining hall, work in the wellness center and create promotional health campaigns.
"What we're doing is trying to give students a really good idea of what they would be doing after they graduate and giving them sort of hands-on ways to apply the concepts of nutrition science," Milano said. "We believe by doing that, it's going to be internalized, and they're going to be much more competitive when they get out there in the job market."
The students also will serve as nutrition and wellness counselors through the college's Cardinal Fit program, which provides North Central community members with health assessments and services, Milano said. Undergraduates are allowed to work with clients under the supervision of faculty members who are registered dietitian nutritionists, per Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics standards.
The unique learning opportunities are expected to help students "narrow down where they really want to focus" after graduation, Milano said. Students could attend graduate school, as will be required by Jan. 1, 2024, to become a registered dietitian in a hospital, fitness center, school, clinic or another setting, she said. Or they could work as an institutional food service manager, become a dietetic technician, start a health blog or serve as a wellness coach.
North Central's program will enroll only freshmen this fall, with about 30 students accepted each year, Milano said. The major will likely open up to transfer students down the line as upper-level curriculum is developed, she said.
Courses will be held across the campus, including in the new 40,000-square-foot health sciences and engineering building.
Aspiring nutritionists and dietitians are expected to work closely with students in other health science programs to provide an "integrated experience" that mimics a real work environment, Milano said.