Marissa Rudley: Feeding the Next Generation of Leaders

They leave mom and dad's house, some of them having never cooked a meal for themselves or taken a list to the grocery store. Marissa Rudley, MS, RD, LD, campus dietitian for the University of Idaho, takes over from there. It is Rudley's job to counsel and educate students about health and nutrition in such a way that she makes a lasting impact. "Through my work, I have learned to never take for granted skills like cooking, grocery shopping or basic meal planning," Rudley says. "For many students, these are the most important skills they will learn while attending college."

What led to your career in nutrition and dietetics?
From my earliest memories, I have always wanted to be a nutritionist. Being able to unite my passion for food with my interest in nutrition has allowed me to explore the dynamic job opportunities in the dietetics field. Every single day on the job is a new challenge, but also exciting and gratifying.

Tell us about your work and how it fulfills a need in your community.
Something I tell every student is that the choices you make during these next several years will continue to impact your food choices and habits throughout adulthood. College is a time of transition, and many students have difficulty prioritizing nutrition and health on their lengthy to-do list. I try to meet them at their level and find solutions that align with their personal goals and abilities.

I also conduct a monthly cooking class called Vandalizing the Kitchen to educate students on healthy, inexpensive, and quick ways to cook meals. Each class has a college-friendly theme, from healthy fast food at home to cooking a la dorms.

How has your work made a difference in your community?
Nutrition counseling has a ripple effect on the health of a community, with each student motivating and educating their peers, families and friends. It can be difficult to quantify this impact. Small successes, such as cooking more meals from scratch or developing improved body image, can turn into big successes over time.

Is there a particular anecdote or story that would illustrate why this work is so important and/or how it has made a difference?
One of the more quirky events was an “Iron Chef” live cooking competition in which two student volunteers competed to create a healthy and gourmet version of the college classic Top Ramen. If I can make nutrition and cooking relevant, attainable and even entertaining, I know I’ve done my job.

What do you find most rewarding about your efforts?
I find myself celebrating hundreds of little things each day: a cooking class participant cooking a meal at home, a client achieving a personal milestone, or a change toward a healthier nutrition environment on campus. Currently, I collaborate with campus dining to provide a variety of healthy food choices throughout campus, including an allergen-friendly dining station. I am also working with a student group to improve healthy vending options throughout our campus. It is these collaborative relationships with students, faculty, and administrators that is the most rewarding aspect of my job.

Food & Nutrition Magazine
Food & Nutrition Magazine publishes articles on food and diet trends, highlights of nutrition research and resources, updates on public health issues and policy initiatives related to nutrition, and explorations of the cultural and social factors that shape Americans’ diets and health.