Elysa Wesolek

 

Biography: Elysa, a former student athlete who earned her bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina, is now approaching her final semester in the master’s program at the University of North Florida. Her interest in nutrition blossomed during her collegiate basketball career, where she recognized the significance of proper fueling for performance. This passion drives her aspirations in a future nutrition and dietetic career, aiming to positively impact the well-being of athletes she encounters.

 

  1. Can you tell me about your undergraduate/graduate program in dietetics? What made you choose this field of study?

 

I received my undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina where I obtained my bachelor’s in public health. At this institution, an undergraduate or graduate degree in nutrition or dietetics was not offered. However, while undergoing my public health studies, I grew an interest and appreciation for nutrition, as I tried to take as many related classes offered that were in lined with my degree path. Once achieving my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to pursue my master’s in nutrition and dietetics, but I did not know where to attend due to a few reasons.

 

While in my studies, I was a student-athlete participating in women’s basketball. I received a fifth year of eligibility due to COVID granting all athletes an extra year. I knew I did not want to stay at the University of South Carolina for my fifth year, as this would cause me to waste a year of studies by not reaching my master’s goal towards nutrition. Therefore, I decided to transfer and find another institution who has the graduate classes for dietetics. After a ton of research, interviews, and tours, I decided to attend the University of North Florida and join the Future Education Model (FEM) Program to being my nutrition and dietetic studies right away.

 

But how did I get to this interest of nutrition?

 

While in my second semester of my undergraduate studies, I switched my degree to public health. After taking some classes in my works, I slowly started to enjoy the topic of nutrition. This was the start of something that at the time, I had no idea was the water to the underlying seed that was beginning to grow inside of me.

 

As being a competitive athlete, I grew appreciation and an interest in dieting and nutrition. I knew if I wanted to be great and to be able to perform at the highest level within my sport, I had to take care of my body, especially in the terms of performance and appearance.

 

Aside from my own care and self-benefits with nutrition and athletics, I knew I eventually wanted to help those who would follow in my footsteps. I realized I was not going to be a competitive athlete for my entire life and the ball was going to eventually stop bouncing. My desire to help elevate the next generation of high-performing athletes was solidified after undergoing my experiences of being in similar footing as other high-end athletes. This heightened my interest and aspiration to become a sports nutritionist even further, for either collegiate or professional athletes.

 

Outside of me being an athlete my whole life or taking a variety of nutrition related classes in my undergrade studies, my interest was planted from my parents, in particular my dad. When I was at my later years in high school going into college, my dad was not at his best health as where he was in previous years. My dad had a variety of chronic illnesses as related to a mixture of his food intake and decrease in physical activity. After a visit from his doctor and hearing what his levels were currently standing at, my dad realized he needed to make a health change quick, but not just for not just himself, but for also his family, in particular, me. His doctor told him if he did not clean up his eating habits or begin going back to the gym, he was not going to see the day or have the opportunity to walk me down the aisle, this took a toll on him.

 

Little did I know the health efforts that were being made and later finding out the news for years to come. I believe outside of my experiences of being an athlete, performing at the highest level in college for a top rank school, being surrounded by the best of the best, and taking several nutrition related classes, my interest in nutrition began from my dad.

 

  1. What were some of the most valuable courses you took during your program, and how did they contribute to your understanding of nutrition and dietetics?

 

So far in my nutrition and dietetics studies, two classes in particular that I have not only enjoyed, but also highly valued were my Sociocultural Influence on Nutrition and Nutrition Through Lifespan classes. These two classes fascinated me the most thus far and have contributed to my understanding to the field in a variety of ways.

 

In the Sociocultural class, the course overview looked at various of ethnic groups while also examining the historical, religious, and sociocultural influences on the development of cuisine, meal patterns, eating customs, cooking methods, and nutritional status. Being able to learn about different cultures and ethnicities with how certain factors can impact nutrition and food behaviors was really interesting to me.

 

I am currently taking the Nutrition Through Lifespan class, but so far, I am enjoying the various of life cycle stages. Especially the topic surrounding pregnancy and infant nutrition because one day I want to be in those two positions to be able to have a family of my own. Learning about pregnancy and infant nutrition is something that I know I will have to learn eventually, but to be able to learn the subjects now fascinates me.

 

  1. Did you have any specific research or internship opportunities related to nutrition during your studies? If so, can you share a memorable experience or project you worked on?

Within my graduate classes, I have a series of internships that I have to complete each semester. Internships that I have had the opportunity to partake in while in my nutrition studies include food service, community nutrition, currently a sports nutrition internship, next semester I will be completing my second sports nutrition rotation, and a clinical internship rotation. One memorable experience I can recall is from my community nutrition rotation last spring. I had a to complete a community needs assessment analysis of a local area who experiences food insecurity and how that can impact life expectancy, as well as other factors. The project also made me put in perspective how common certain accesses, practices, and wellness opportunities are not really utilized in the area assessed.

 

  1. What are some of the key skills you have developed throughout your educational and professional journey in nutrition? How do you believe these skills will benefit you in your future career?

 

So far in my educational and professional journey in nutrition, some key skills I have developed are counseling, analytical, problem-solving, listening, organizational, and principal nutrition skills. Each of these skills will benefit me in my future career, however it does not stop at just the handful of qualities mentioned. There are still plenty of skills that I can take the steps to learn and succeed in while in my ending studies to my career. All of the quality of skills mentioned above go hand in hand towards my career path of becoming a sports nutritionist.