From Musical Theater to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist: One Student’s Journey

This article is the second of a three-part series on students in the M.A. in Applied Nutrition and Dietetics program. The Union curriculum prepares students to be socially responsible practitioners engaged in actions that enhance the quality of life, reduce health disparities, and protect human rights.

Each feature shares the career dream of a student in the Food Science course that explores the composition, physical, microbiological and chemical changes in food and manufacturing. The course requires students to think outside of the box and create a product not currently available on the market. The project is an excellent example of incorporating universal design principles to enhance an inclusive learning environment with equal access and opportunities for every student.

From musical theater to nutrigenomics: that’s the changing career path of Johannah Katz, a student enrolled in the M.A. in Applied Nutrition Dietetics program at Union.

Growing up, Johannah was grounded in the arts but always had a passion for nutrition and health sciences. She earned a bachelor’s in musical theater from Boston Conservatory at Berklee and worked professionally for almost a decade. Then life took a turn. She was diagnosed with the BRCA2 mutation and learned she has a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. That news was the catalyst to becoming an advocate for prevention through nutrition as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

Johanna Katz

“I became fascinated with nutrigenomics, which is the study of nutrition’s effect on gene expression. Functional medicine and nutrigenomics are areas I have become deeply immersed in, and I continue to learn every day,” she said.

In the food science course, Johannah was challenged to create healthy food that would succeed in today’s market. As a mother of two, she has experienced how picky children can be about healthy food and snacks. That experience led her to reinvent the popsicle. After experimenting with various vegetables and fruits and trying different freezing methods, she developed three prototypes and took them to her daughter’s classroom for taste testing. When the children rated the popsicles with smiley faces, she knew she had the correct recipe. Picky Pops® were invented.

Johannah Katz displays her food creation Picky Pops®

According to Dr. Andrea Chauvin, Union faculty and a leading expert in food and nutrition, “This exercise is important because it inspires creativity, critical thinking, and the incorporation of all the concepts taught in class in real life. The course requires students to think outside of the box and create something unique.”

In addition to food science, this program has exposed Johannah to several food justice aspects of nutrition, specifically food insecurity. Through coursework and assignments woven around social justice, she has learned the necessity for identifying gaps in nutrition availability and the value of public health initiatives such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She has also become more aware of the positive impact agricultural organizations such as farms and food pantries can have on communities.

Once Johannah decided to pursue a career as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, she selected Union for several reasons. The program meets the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®) standards and is part of the Future Educational Model ensuring students achieve competencies that will advance the profession and protect the public. In addition, Johanna appreciated the flexibility of online learning, the in-person component of preceptorships, and the community of predominantly adult learners.

Johannah is currently a clinical research coordinator working on her thesis studying the effects of the nutrigenomic compound sulforaphane in a virally suppressed HIV population. It’s vastly different from musical theater, but it is a career change she is passionate about and she is grateful that Union offers the path forward.

A career in Applied Nutrition and Dietetics is available today. Enroll today.