RIT names head of Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition

Researcher focuses on eating attitudes/behaviors, community nutrition

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Barbara Lohse

Rochester Institute of Technology has chosen a leading researcher in community nutrition to head its new Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition.

Barbara Lohse, a research professor and senior instructor at the Pennsylvania State University Department of Nutritional Sciences, was chosen following a national search. She begins her new role at the school, part of RIT’s College of Health Sciences and Technology, on July 1.

Dr. Daniel Ornt, RIT dean of the College of Health Sciences and Technology and vice president of the Institute of Health Sciences and Technology, said Lohse was chosen because of her vast experience as a clinical nutritionist, registered dietitian and teacher and mentor of graduate students.

“She is an expert in nutrition education for the general public, with research supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Ornt said. “Her credentials and her vision for the Wegmans school were impressive, and we are delighted to have her on board.”

Lohse’s leadership will provide the school with a research agenda that addresses critical health issues like obesity and promotes healthy lifestyles, Ornt said. Lohse has been engaged in research that focuses on eating competence, or attitudes and behaviors pertaining to food, community nutrition and nutrition education for low-income populations. She directed the Pennsylvania state SNAP-Ed program, a nutrition and public-health education resource for individuals eligible for SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps and funded by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

Lohse founded and directed the Nutrition Education Engineering and Designs or NEEDS Center at Penn State to demonstrate effective nutrition education and ensure eligibility for future state and federal funding. The center develops and promotes evidence-based nutrition education programs. Lohse looks forward to establishing a similar center at RIT.

“I see the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition as being able to provide opportunities for three things—an academic portal so that students at RIT can learn skills they can apply to people in need in Rochester, specifically in terms of nutrition and health; a source of programmatic information for community partners that want to provide nutrition education; and a source of research so we can learn how nutritional education programs function, especially in the Rochester area.”

RIT launched the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition last March with a $6 million gift from The Wegman Family Charitable Foundation.

“The Wegman Family Charitable Foundation’s mission is to help our community live healthier better lives,” said Danny Wegman, The Foundation’s president and chairman of the board. “Dr. Lohse will truly help us achieve this mission.”

Lohse’s use of digital media in her research mirrors the university’s technological culture, Ornt said. Lohse said she believes social media and smart phones and tablets are the best ways to reach her target audiences. Lohse has used Facebook as a tool to recruit low-income women with young children to online nutrition education programs about family meals and to evaluate the success of her programs.

“I can deliver nutrition education to wherever people are, which is wherever they are sitting with their phone or tablet. I can provide education to them more easily than asking them to come into a classroom or asking them where I can mail handouts. It’s much easier with technology because that’s where people are today.”

She foresees multidisciplinary collaborations between the Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition and her new RIT colleagues in engineering, computing technology and digital and visual communications.

The Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition is focused on producing graduates who are well prepared to provide leadership in health and wellness. The school includes nearly 100 undergraduates already enrolled in a pre-existing minor in exercise management and a B.S. in nutrition management with 410 alumni.

Contingent upon state approval, the school will add a master’s degree in health and wellness, a bachelor’s in exercise science and a doctoral program in applied nutrition.

The master’s program in health and wellness will focus on teaching students to integrate wellness into primary medical care and health-enhancement programs designed for corporate or community-based initiatives. Students will integrate data from the fitness laboratory in the exercise science program into their projects and explore cultural impacts of health and wellness, and related political implications.

Graduate students pursuing their Ph.D. in applied nutrition will advance knowledge in a research-driven environment that Lohse will help establish. The program will produce graduates with the knowledge to fill high-level clinical positions in the healthcare industry or to teach in higher education.

A proposal for a second master’s in psychology of health and wellness will follow with a focus on behavior modification for optimum health.

The Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition will be located in the new 45,000-square foot Clinical Health Sciences Center that will open later this year.