Student Spotlight: Jessica Kearney
Jessica Kearney earned her B.S. in nutrition, but like many new grads, she struggled to find a job after graduation. Eventually, she landed a position with the Stanislaus County WIC Program. Though community nutrition wasn’t her field of choice, after just a few short months of working with pregnant women and young children, a new fire was lit within her.
She quickly realized that educating and supporting young families was where she needed to be, but she knew she needed more education to get there. Now, more than a decade later and with a degree in UC Davis’ Master of Advanced Study in Maternal and Child Nutrition under her belt, Kearney is a registered dietitian manager and nutrition education coordinator at The Resource Connection of Amador and Calaveras WIC Program in California. She also sits on state WIC committees and contributes to nutrition messages taught statewide.
What led you to the UC Davis Maternal and Child Nutrition Program?
I first learned of the program as an undergrad at UC Davis, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I decided I wanted to pursue a master’s degree. Considering my career path, it was a no brainer. A generic master’s in nutrition would not have provided me with the same knowledge and skill set. Having prestigious colleges and universities offering very specific master’s programs, such as this one, is how you generate experts in the field. I feel very fortunate that I was able to complete this program.
How did this program strengthen the education you received from your bachelor’s degree?
My undergrad studies in nutrition had very little curriculum focused on maternal and child nutrition. Most of what I learned on the topic prior to this program was from mentors at work and from my dietetic internship. The Maternal and Child Nutrition Program is where I gained the most academic knowledge and skills. We were educated on the most up-to-date research findings from those who were leading the studies. The program is invaluable.
What was the most valuable thing you learned?
I can’t say that it is something new that I had learned, but rather the depth of additional knowledge I obtained from the program. The most valuable concept was the direct impact that day-to-day choices during pregnancy have on a child’s development, their likelihood of developing diseases, their ability to overcome ailments, and on their overall health throughout their lifetime.
What difference did the program make in your career?
The largest impact on my career was the amount of additional respect I gained from my peers and management. I became the ultimate expert in the office. I was asked by my boss to sit on the state WIC’s education committee and have been an active member on multiple state WIC committees since.
This program is designed for working professionals. Were you able to apply what you were learning in the program to your work? And how was it juggling work and coursework from the program?
I was able to apply almost everything, in some way, from class to my work the next day at WIC. The amount of coursework felt very manageable while working full time.
What unexpected challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
I became a mom four months before the program ended. I am still impressed and grateful for the amount of support I received by the faculty and the other students in my classes. I was even allowed to bring my newborn to class with me.
Interested in the UC Davis Master of Advanced Study in Maternal and Child Nutrition?
Schedule a one-on-one appointment with enrollment coach Cathy Zhao to learn more about the program and find out if it’s the right fit for your career goals.
Would you recommend this program?
I would absolutely recommend the UC Davis Master of Advanced Study in Maternal and Child Nutrition to every WIC dietitian or any dietitian working with the maternal and pediatric population. This program is designed to meet the needs of WIC registered dietitians. The population and topics studied in this program are what we do; it's who we serve.
Where do you hope to see yourself in the next five to 10 years?
I have no plans to leave WIC. This is where my heart is. I’ve always entertained the idea of working at the California State WIC offices, so that may be something I decide to pursue in the future. If I ever decided to leave WIC, I would consider teaching nutrition classes, preferably a maternal and child nutrition course at a community college nearby.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I love being able to provide a parent with an “ah-ha!” moment, to be able to connect all of the dots and to see them turn information into actions that help their family grow healthier. I love knowing that I had a positive impact on the health outcomes of a child’s life. Maybe I made one—even little—thing in their life easier and gave them one less health problem to face in their future.