Tech’s new community health and nutrition Master’s degree provides options

COOKEVILLE – A new master’s degree at Tennessee Tech University offers health and nutrition professionals options and opportunities previously unavailable in the local community. Tech’s School of Human Ecology began offering an online Master of Science degree in community health and nutrition in the Fall of 2021.  

“This program will benefit students who wish to learn more about rural and community health and nutrition,” Samantha Hutson, dietetics graduate program director at Tech, said. “It will allow students who are from the Upper Cumberland to complete the requirements to become a registered dietitian in our local community.”

The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, making it suitable for students who wish to become registered dietitian/nutritionists. To become a registered dietitian/nutritionist, students would need to enroll in an additional 12 hours of practicum courses.

It is also appropriate for those who are already practicing professionals who simply want more knowledge of community health and nutrition.

“The style of program for those who wish to be registered dietitians is called a Future Education Model, is a new style of supervised practice program that provides graduate level, competency-based dietitian nutritionist education that integrates coursework and at least 1,000 hours of experiential learning,” Hutson said. “There are only two other FEM programs in the state.”

Katie Neal, a Cookeville native, graduated in 2017 with her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Ecology with a concentration in nutrition and dietetics, and is currently enrolled in the master’s program to get her master’s degree and complete the requirements to become a registered dietitian. She will graduate in May 2023.

“I currently work for the Tennessee Department of Health as a Public Health Educator. This job is very similar to the major and has helped me through most of the classes since I already work in the field daily,” Neal said.  

Neal decided she wanted to work in something more specific and had always wanted to become a registered dietitian. She said it was not great timing for her when she graduated in 2017, but when she heard about this program, she knew it was perfect timing for her now.

“I have a passion for helping others, as obesity and chronic illnesses become at an all-time high. I feel that I could play a major role in helping prevent and or prolong life expectancy simply by the ‘medicine of food,’” Neal said. “I truly believe our gut, mind and health are all in sync and that if we take care of ourselves, we can live a longer life simply by living a healthier lifestyle. Food is medicine and I want to share that with others.”

McKayla Brown, a native of Albany, Kentucky, is a 2020 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in human ecology, with a concentration in nutrition and dietetics. She will graduate with her master’s degree in community health and nutrition in May 2023.

“I have always been interested in health promotion and disease prevention. I knew that this program would expand my knowledge on how I could make an impact within the community and raise awareness to others about the importance of health and nutrition,” Brown said.

Brown currently works with dining services on Tech’s campus as a dietary intern. This position was made available this year to a student in the program and has been a great opportunity for employment during a busy semester, according to Brown.  

“I will take the registered dietitian exam after I graduate and would love to start my career working within a community and public health setting. One specific area that I am interested in working in is with the WIC program at a public health department.”

One of Brown’s goals is to pass the registered dietician exam on the first try and start a career in Cookeville or surrounding areas. Another goal is to simply enjoy the area that she ends up working in and actively help others live healthier lifestyles through nutrition education.

“Being a part of the first group to go through this program as well as becoming acquainted with graduate school has been challenging, but I believe that it has allowed me to grow as an individual in many ways that will allow me to persevere in the future,” Brown said. “This first class is successfully paving a way for incoming students, and I am proud of all our accomplishments thus far.”

Without having this program at Tech, students typically must move out of the area to complete one of these programs. Many of the students will likely now remain in this area, according to Hutson.

“This will allow them to contribute to our community’s health through their expertise in nutrition and community health,” Hutson said. 

If you would like more information, visit Hutson at or 931-372-3865.

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