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A Conversation with Graduating Senior Kati Scruggs

woman in cap and gown with "wolf hands"

For outstanding CALS graduating senior Kati Scruggs, coming to NC State in 2014 opened troves of opportunities: she conducted ethnographic research in the western highlands of Guatemala and led the 2017 Krispy Kreme Challenge, the student body’s biggest and best-known fundraiser.

She also taught cooking and nutrition classes to low-income members of the community, helped develop curricula for building middle-school girls’ confidence and leadership skills, took part in nutrition education training for an international nongovernment organization and worked with a Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition faculty member to develop training videos for aspiring nutrition educators.

The list goes on – that’s one reason she was chosen 2016’s Leader of the Pack. Read on to learn more about Scruggs’ experience at NC State and how it’s prepared her to take the next step toward her goal of helping to solve important nutrition-related problems.

What drew you to NC State?

My brother went here, and when I came to visit NC State, it just felt so collaborative. It didn’t have that competitive cutthroat vibe I felt at other schools I visited. That’s not me. Instead, I felt like it was a place that I would fit in and do really well. Then the next day I was offered the Park Scholarship, and that sealed the deal.

Why did you choose applied nutrition and women’s and gender studies for your majors?

I’m intending to go into public health, and women’s health seemed like something that I could really get into. I decided to study both applied nutrition and women’s and gender studies. It’s been really fun to see how I could pull nutrition into my women’s and gender studies classes, and pull women’s and gender studies into my nutrition classes. Nutrition gives me a set of really specific technical skills, and then women’s and gender studies gives me a systems’ perspective.

For example, in my women’s and gender studies’ capstone class, we had to do a research paper, and mine was on the social construction of malnutrition in Guatemala – looking at how all these gendered social factors interact with biological realities and how that relates to malnutrition in women.

What will you do after graduation?

I’m doing AmeriCorps service work here in Raleigh with Cooperative Extension in Wake County and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C. to coordinate school and community gardens. Long term, I will probably end up getting my Ph.D. and then teach. Ultimately, I would really love to work at a land-grant university. I’m trying to take it one step at a time now, because that’s such a long path.

How do you think NC State has prepared you to meet your goal?

I think the collaborative, interdisciplinary focus here is so, so important to addressing big world problems. I’m thinking more of the public health type things – for example, food access, malnutrition, obesity. … None of them can be solved with just one perspective, and so having an interdisciplinary focus with my majors, being around professors and students who are tackling problems from all these different perspectives – it blows me away. People are just excited about things here. If you talk to anyone on campus, they usually have their one thing or a few different things that they’re really, really into.

What would you say is your one big thing?

I think health education would be my one big thing. I feel very strongly that knowing how your body works and having some idea of how you can have a role in optimizing that is so important. Instead of telling people what they should eat, you can empower people. If they understand enough about nutrition, they can think through how to make decisions about their bodies, and then make those decisions themselves.

What advice would you give to an incoming student who wants to get involved at NC State?

When you are just coming in, the opportunities can feel overwhelming, but you have to try things out before you know what you’re into. I would much rather err on the side of ‘I’ve tried out all these things, and now I have to pick something things,’ rather than ‘I haven’t done anything, and I have no idea where to go from here.’ Deciding where you can make a difference and where you fit in can be challenging.

One last question: You’re passionate about nutrition education, and yet you’ve directed the Krispy Kreme Challenge run. Isn’t that … ?

I’ve gotten that reaction before, but you don’t actually have to eat 12 doughnuts to take part in the run to raise money for the UNC Children’s Hospital. In fact, one way that I did integrate nutrition a little bit into the organization was by offering a ‘no doughnut’ option.

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.

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