The Dannon Institute, in coordination with the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), presents this award annually to a nutrition educator who has demonstrated outstanding mentoring qualities by developing successful investigators of nutritional sciences. The Dannon Institute is committed to developing leadership and recognizing the critical role that mentorship plays.
The 2016 recipient of the ASN/Dannon Institute Mentorship Award is Elizabeth H. Jeffery, PhD., Professor Emerita of Nutrition and Professor Emerita of Pharmacology at the University of Illinois, Urbana. Elizabeth cares deeply that, regardless of where we have started, each one of her students reaches full potential for excellence. She has provided continued guidance and support throughout our careers, setting an unparalleled example for us as scientists operating in the fields of Nutrition and Toxicology, in diverse settings including academia, government and industry. Elizabeth is a champion for women in science, and her experience blazing a trail in the male-dominated fields of Biochemistry and Toxicology in the 1970’s and ‘80’s clearly shaped her attitudes and coaching style. Although she began her research career as a toxicologist, Elizabeth has a distinguished history of service and leadership in the American Society for Nutrition. The scope of Elizabeth’s mentorship goes far beyond only her direct students. As a committee member, colleague, advisor or collaborator, her passion has always lied in helping others to find success.
Elizabeth considers her laboratory a teaching space, where inexperienced students can develop their critical thinking skills – learning not only to create critique, but also to accept and apply it to advance their work. The positions obtained by her former trainees are a reflection of the diversity of the students she has mentored, and her ability to pass along her core values to each of us. Her objective was not to direct us to her own definition of success, but rather to help us each reach our full, unique, potential. Below are examples of how she has shown us these values.
Ethics: Many times Elizabeth has guided us to let the data tell the story. Fundamental to her own beliefs and those she has imparted to her mentees has been the ethical obligation of standing alone and expressing scientific findings as they are, even if a conflict of opinion results. She has shown us that the most unusual and unexpected results, that at first may have seemed like a mistake, usually lead to the most important breakthroughs. Interdisciplinary collaboration: Elizabeth frequently tells students not to sit with their friends at scientific conferences, in order to network with potential collaborators. From the beginning of her career as a Toxicologist until today, Elizabeth has found her greatest successes in interdisciplinary research.
She has shown us that research gaps are by their nature crossdisciplinary, and in order to solve them effectively we must put aside our biases and affiliations. Diversity: Elizabeth intentionally recruits students and faculty with diverse educational backgrounds including Toxicology, Medicine, Chemistry, Engineering, Food Science and Nutrition. At any given time she has had individuals from the U.S., Sweden, Korea, Taiwan, China, India, Costa Rica, and the Netherlands, among others in her own laboratory. She has shown us the importance of inclusion; valuing and respecting the ideas of others, no matter where they may be coming from geographically or philosophically.
Confidence (in yourself and others): Elizabeth sometimes tells students “be sure to ask a question so they will know who you are.” In the words of former student Ren-Hau Lai, “she thought of me as a plain paper. She told me that she is very confident that my short learning curve can help me catch up the technical parts quickly. The most important part for the research is how to apply what I’ve learned from my previous trainings and integrate them more efficiently. Because of Dr. Jeffery’s encouragement, I realize how to succeed with my unique background.” She has shown students that they can trust in their own ability, and in the abilities of those around them, to succeed.
Excellence (in yourself and others): A number of Elizabeth’s pre-doctoral students have, with her guidance, applied for and received funding for their own research (e.g. USDA NRI grant 99-35503-7010 that funded co-nominator Matusheski’s PhD thesis). Several students have been directed back into the lab after a preliminary exam or even a thesis defense to repeat an experiment. Elizabeth has shown students the value in pushing ourselves for excellence, and helped each realize what they can achieve when they are motivated to succeed and push others to do the same.
Curiosity: Students have often heard Elizabeth say “that’s only dogma.” She encouraged them to dig deep into the literature and challenge conventional wisdom. In the words of former mentee Anne Kurilich, “she really pushed me to think not just about the details of the projects I was working on, but also to think more broadly, to really see the big picture and the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.” She has shown that creativity comes from curiosity, and one must always be curious about whether dogma represents reality.
Adaptability: The students in Elizabeth’s laboratory were expected to bring in new methods to solve a problem, not bring in new problems to solve with a method. Many of us struggled with unfamiliar techniques in analytical chemistry, bioassays, protein expression and in vivo experimentation. But each of us learned the value in developing new skills. Elizabeth says she “came into Nutrition through the back door,” having begun her career in toxicology, and adapting her skillset into a productive research career in the field of Nutrition on dietary bioactive components. She has shown students that they can adapt to create new and unexpected opportunities.
Selflessness: Elizabeth always encouraged students to share our skills with incoming students and students of other laboratories, helping us to become mentors ourselves. Visiting graduate students who have completed short-term projects with Elizabeth (including conominator Hintze) received the same level of coaching as her own students, and such projects have become the basis for PhD dissertations and numerous publications. Her mentorship has been crucial for many to realize their career goals, especially as junior investigators. She showed us that true leadership is not about power, but about service to others. The positions of leadership that her students have obtained across diverse disciplines are direct evidence of this guidance.
Intersociety Professional Nutrition Education Consortium (IPNEC) Online Nutrition Curriculum Guide
At a time when there is growing public concern for the health of Americans, nutritionally related chronic diseases are more prevalent than ever. Yet, in spite of scientific data, public interest, U.S. government reports, society studies and congressional mandates, the teaching of nutrition in medical schools and residency programs remains inadequate. Physicians thus remain insufficiently informed about the role of diet in the prevention and treatment of disease. In order to encourage the nutrition societies to unite in addressing these issues, the Intersociety Professional Nutrition Education Consortium (IPNEC) was founded in 1997.
The Dannon Institute has provided a grant to assist IPNEC in funding an online nutrition curriculum guide. This curriculum guide, available at www.ipnec.org, is intended to provide direction in training physician nutrition specialists.
ASN Clinical Internship
In 1995, the American Society for Nutrition in conjunction with the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) established a program of internships in clinical nutrition for medical students. The purpose of this program is to increase the role of nutrition in the practice of medicine, medical research, health promotion and disease prevention by providing a unique combination of educational experiences to medical students. Each intern works under a recognized authority in clinical nutrition in a U.S. medical school or hospital for approximately eight weeks during the summer. The Dannon Institute funded this program annually from 1998 to 2006.
Nutrition in Medicine CD-ROMs
In the years between 1998 and 2000, the Dannon Institute provided funding to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to support the development of Nutrition in Medicine, a CD-Rom nutrition curriculum. This innovative, case-oriented course was developed by physicians, nutritionists, educators and programmers. It is aimed at healthcare providers who can prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses through better nutrition. It is currently the exclusive nutrition education tool used by over 125 Medical Schools and has been adapted for use by already licensed physicians and other healthcare providers. The Dannon Institute also provided funding for the development of a teacher’s guide to accompany this series in an undergraduate setting.