AHS April Blog: Growing a Career in Family and Consumer Sciences
The Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni, and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the fields of agricultural, extension, and human science. In the April blog post, AHS staff member Jayne McBurney, examines career paths available within family and consumer sciences.
When Alyssa Anderson planted seeds in 2015, she didn’t fully know how much her career would grow. Anderson started a position with NC Cooperative Extension as a Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent in Richmond and Moore counties after completing a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics at Kent State University. It was in the community rotation of her dietetic internship that she learned she wanted to focus on the prevention of chronic diseases through nutrition education.
From the beginning, she enjoyed working in the Richmond and Moore communities. She was able to apply her skills and abilities to work with community members to help meet needs. It also became clear that the work she was doing complimented the work of other agents in the offices, specifically those working in Local Foods.
“I was continually learning from the other agents in the office. Much of my education in college focused on health benefits related to food consumption and I loved having the opportunity to expand my knowledge in other areas of the local food system. Many of these conversations we had in the office where we were learning from one another led to new ideas such as weekly radio spots.”
Anderson soon learned she would be more effective if she could focus on just one county. In 2017, she accepted a position in Lee County to build a comprehensive program around nutrition and community health. Lee County was part of the Health Matters Grant, a project funded by the CDC for the High Obesity Program (HOP) and led by Annie Hardison-Moody and Lindsey Haynes-Maslow. Working with campus faculty and staff to implement and fund programs in the community was very rewarding. The merging of theory into practice to create innovative and meaningful changes in the community was invigorating.
Work on the Health Matters Grant energized Anderson to move into a leadership role with LEEding Toward Wellness, a county health coalition. In her role, she worked to create and develop food and built environment initiatives and social marketing plan that supported wellness in the community. Although she left her position in 2022, the work of LEEding Towards Wellness continues.
Cooperative Extension values lifelong learning, and Anderson was learning from her colleagues in the counties and at the university. She was inspired to expand her knowledge in adult learning and lifelong education. In the Fall of 2017, she began a PhD program at NC State University in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development. As her work in Lee County grew and bloomed, she could apply what she was learning in the classroom to her work.
In January 2022, Anderson had the opportunity to further grow her career with Steps to Health as the Social Marketing and Evaluation Extension Associate. In her position, she integrates social marketing across the state to support direct education and built environment work, or PSE (policy, system, and environment) initiatives in counties. She has enjoyed working in a team to layer approaches to building comprehensive nutrition education.
“The organizational values and goals of Extension, especially as it relates to increasing nutrition security within communities, align closely with my personal values and passion within the field. As I continued to learn through hands-on experience working with different communities, I noticed that the most successful programs were ones that thoughtfully merged both theories and practice together. This inspired me to look for a PhD program that would help expand my knowledge related to theory and give me the vocabulary to describe what I was observing within the field in relation to programming. I was excited for the opportunity to apply for a position at the state level because it would allow me to apply what I had learned from these experiences to help improve food security on a larger scale.”
Anderson is planting new seeds. She completed her PhD in March and in August 2023, she will join the School of Health Sciences at Kent State University as a tenure track faculty member. She is looking forward to contributing to the education of future professionals in the field of nutrition, especially related to community nutrition. “I am so grateful for my time at NC State and for all the people I have met along the way. I have been fortunate to learn from amazing leaders and mentors that have advised and guided me throughout the years,” reflected Anderson.