Student Award Winners - 2015

NEP was pleased to award two student NEP members scholarships to help support their attendance at FNCE® 2015 in Nashville. Our awardees are EJ Otto and Peggy Gomez.

EJ Otto

Peggy Gomez

EJ will graduate in the spring of 2016 from La Salle University. He will be RD eligible in spring 2017.

Peggy is a graduate of Arizona State University. She will be RD eligible in December 2016.


EJ Otto - EJ attends La Salle University and will graduate in spring 2016. He uses volunteerism to fuel his calling for work as a nutrition educator through his time with the Food Trust in urban Philadelphia. EJ's interest in farm-to-table methods will assist him with a growing career in technology and agriculture in an urban setting.

EJ's FNCE Experience:

As a student who is preparing to graduate and enter the professional world, my confidence in choosing to major in dietetics has never been stronger. Reflecting on the opportunities and experiences I’ve had over my years at La Salle University has left me grateful. This feeling is only strengthened after being given the opportunity to attend the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Nashville, TN. As my academic career comes to an end, my professional horizon has never looked brighter; I’m excited at the number of pathways that await Registered Dietitians. While at FNCE, I was fortunate to attend many educational sessions that helped me decide which path I think is best for me.

One of the education sessions that I attended discussed the nontraditional career paths in dietetics. This session focused on three different areas of nontraditional pathways, including writing, social media and retail. Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD spoke about how her use of social media got the attention of SELF magazine, who asked her to join as a nutrition blogger. Some of the tips for a nontraditional career path include creating a brand, recognizing how others see you as a professional, and analyzing what you have to offer. Social media websites, such as Twitter, can connect the RDN instantly with hundreds to thousands, if not millions of people who seek their advice. As an avid Twitter user (@ej_otto), I would love to launch my own career using this platform. I enjoy being able to connect with others instantly, discussing something we’re passionate about. This session helped me with the planning process that goes into social media. I learned that content is important, but the type and sources of that content is even more so—the registered dietitian is credible and their social media profiles should enforce that.

While I know I want social media to play a role in my future career, I want my brand to focus on nutrition education. After spending the summer as a nutrition education volunteer with the Food Trust in Philadelphia, my interest in farm to table in the urban setting has been piqued. I attended an educational session that focused on the involvement of children in the gardening process. Jen Haugen, RD discussed the benefits of introducing children to gardening and the impact their experience has on the family. She started a garden growing program for children at her school and discussed the excitement they had during the process. Children are very influential when it comes to food choices in the family, so why not create a way for children to be excited about healthy foods that the whole family ends up enjoying? The takeaway from this session was that early introduction to growing and farming helps children carry healthy eating habits into adulthood. The benefit also extends to the families whose children partake in garden growing—in a survey highlighted during her session, Jen stated that 50% of parents surveyed gave their children more fruits and vegetables with their meals because of their influence from gardening.

Both of these FNCE education sessions were extremely important to me because I want to be able to create excitement for my own future as well as future. Since so many children are using mobile devices and social media, I think it would be a great platform to get them interested and excited about gardening or at least healthy eating options. There are many kids in urban areas, like Philadelphia, that have never seen or heard of certain fruits and vegetables usually due to lack of access. I’d like to take the information I learned at FNCE to create a way for children in low-income areas to have easy access to nutrition education through social media and farmer’s markets or community gardens. I want kids to be as excited about nutrition education and social media as I am.

Peggy Gomez - Peggy graduated from Arizona State University and will begin her dietetic internship in June 2016. She currently works as a Nutritionist and Certified LEAP Therapist in training to assist patients with reducing chronic illness by educating them about food sensitivities affecting their quality of life. Peggy's future goals include becoming actively involved with her state and local dietetic groups as well as NEP DPG. Volunteering for the Healthy for Life and Athletes for Life programs has fueled her passion for educating individual and community-based bilingual audiences.

Peggy's FNCE Experience:

Attending the 2015 Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Nashville, TN with the help of the Nutrition Education for the Public (NEP) Dietetic Practice Group (DPG) gave me the opportunity to meet several DPGs members in person that I had only known through email! I also networked at different DPGs showcase booths, which taught me the benefits, included as a member and better understand what those DPGs are about. Attending different dinners allowed me get to engage in deeper conversations with registered dietitians and hear about their experiences on how they got to where they are at in their career and tips to becoming a successful entrepreneur such as keeping in touch with my new connections and staying organized and focused on my goals. I broadened my network with RDs, students, interns, and health professionals from different parts of the world! My new connections will assist my future career by increasing my sphere of influence which not only adds to the diversity of my thinking but also expands the number of people I will be able to reach out to in order to inform them of my nutrition business services. Walking through the expo, I learned about new products and the latest research and sampled various new foods which I can now inform my family and friends about; I also made connections with companies who offered to provide free information and samples when needed.

One nutrition education session I attended explained the process for helping athletes achieve optimal performance weight and body composition. I learned about the sport-related and physique-related characteristics and factors to keep in mind when setting goals with athletes. For instance, one has to understand the demand of the sport and physical characteristics unique to that sport, such as their opponents’ body composition and weight, and need for endurance, strength, speed, and flexibility. The four key steps to an effective nutrition plan to achieve optimal weight include: 1) assessment, 2) goal setting, 3) action plan, 4) evaluation and re-assessment. The action plan includes hydration needs, post-exercise recovery plan, and building a solid nutritional base that is both flexible and practical. The macronutrients are distributed based on the goals for weight, body composition, performance, training, strength & conditioning, and health. Pre-exercise snacks include 6-12g of protein and 1g/carbohydrate (CHO) per kg body weight and post-exercise snacks include 15-20g of protein with the same amount of CHO. The maximum grams of protein per kg body weight is 2g of protein; research has not shown a benefit from consuming more than this. Therefore, a comprehensive assessment is needed to personalize the nutrition plan to the athlete’s performance demands and physical demands.

Thanks to the NEP DPG scholarship I attended FNCE, which broadened my knowledge in nutrition and my growth, both personally and professionally!