Amber Baughman and Brannan Murphy will graduate this weekend with dietetic degrees. Both are non-traditional students who came to Iowa State after pursuing degrees in other majors. Contributed photos.

Non-traditional students find success in dietetics program

Sometimes students take a direct path to college, graduate, and enter the workforce. Other times, their pathway to a degree may not be so straight and narrow.

Amber Baughman and Brannan Murphy are both non-traditional students at Iowa State University who will graduate with degrees in dietetics later this week. They came to Ames in the fall of 2015 to start their paths to becoming registered dietitians.

For Baughman, it was a return to Iowa State after having earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 2014. Following graduation, she moved to Ohio with her parents, where she worked as a dietary aide. However, she couldn’t stop thinking about how she should have majored in dietetics, especially after her enjoyment of job shadowing a dietitian shortly before graduation. It didn’t take her long to realize she wanted to return to Ames to pursue a second degree.

“I love Iowa State and it’s really where I wanted to go for my dietetics degree,” Baughman said.

Murphy took several accounting classes at a different school, but was a few classes short of earning a degree before he landed an accounting job. Not loving the sedentary lifestyle that came with the position, he started looking into articles about healthy eating and exercise as a way to get healthier and lose weight.

When Murphy told his bootcamp instructor he was thinking of becoming a personal trainer, his instructor encouraged him to steer more toward a career in food science due to the high saturation in the personal trainer job market. Murphy did some more research and came across Iowa State’s dietetics program. Within a matter of weeks, he made the decision to come to Iowa State, packed his things and moved back to Iowa.

What interests him about dietetics is it allows him to understand how different foods affect the body.

“I like being able to know how your body takes in nutrients and uses them,” Murphy said.

Baughman and Murphy have been heavily involved in activities both on and off campus. Both served as peer mentors for the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition transfer learning community. Also, they’ve each been involved in a number of clubs, including Student Dietetic Association, Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness (BIEDA), Kinesiology & Health Club, and Kappa Omicron Nu.

While pursuing her degree, Baughman has held a number of positions to help her gain experience in the field. She’s served as a dietetic assistant at HyVee, where she taught classes geared toward children and assisted with grocery store tours. Currently, she works behind the scenes with ISU Dining, creating labeling to alert individuals of any potential food allergens present in the food items served. She’s also assisted the ISU dietitian with writing blog posts.

“Taking risks and going out of your comfort zone is so important with this degree,” Baughman said.

Helping them find success along the way, both students are quick to point to their academic and faculty advisers. Academic adviser Amber Kargol welcomed them to Iowa State and worked with them during their time as peer mentors for the transfer learning community.

“I know I can always talk to her and vent,” Murphy said of Kargol. “She kept pushing me along to help me.”

His advisor, Wendy White, also has impacted his time at Iowa State.

“She never really stopped believing in me and knew I had the potential to be where I’m at today,” Murphy said.

When Baughman walks across the stage this weekend at commencement, it will not mark the end of her time at Iowa State. She has been accepted into Iowa State’s Dietetic Internship program. Eventually, she’d like to go on to earn a master’s degree in dietetics.

“I love learning and research,” Baughman said.

Her goal is to one day obtain a position as a worksite wellness counselor or become a community dietitian. She enjoys being able to meet with individuals on a one-on-one basis to talk about their health.

Murphy will be attending Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., to pursue a master of science in nutrition and complete his dietetic internship.

“I am very excited about this opportunity, and because of our great undergraduate program in dietetics at Iowa State, I feel prepared to exceed in both the master’s program and the internship,” Murphy said.

Kargol has witnessed both Baughman and Murphy experience personal struggles during their time at Iowa State, but said they have not let those struggles get in their way. She’s proud of how far they’ve come and is excited for their future.

“They believe in this institution, sought out personal and academic assistance, and became involved,” Kargol said. “I can’t wait to watch them in their next phase of life!”

The students encourage other non-traditional students to take that leap and go back to school, if that’s what they’re thinking about doing.

“Go for it,” Murphy said. “You don’t want to, years from now, be asking yourself ‘what if?’”