As I reflect on my time at the Friedman School, I start off by merely reflecting about how I decided to continue my education into graduate school directly after completing my undergraduate degree, all while the world was in the midst of the pandemic in Fall of 2020.
While making the decision to do so required much thought, given the first full year being conducted virtually, I went against the odds and decided to pursue my intended degree in the Master of Nutrition and Science and Policy blended program. I believed then and now that the world needs nutrition science and policy professionals more than ever. COVID-19 has revealed disproportionate inequities such as food insecurity, higher rates of cardiovascular diseases, poverty, and many more issues weighing a burden on society. These inequalities were persistent prior to COVID-19, however as most of us know, the pandemic continued to exacerbate them.
Continuing my education by pursuing a Master’s degree in the Nutrition Science and Policy program meant something deeper than just getting another degree. It meant allowing me to translate my lived experience and expertise growing up with poverty and food insecurity myself, into something meaningful and impactful. It meant bringing my parents’ anecdotes of fleeing their war-torn countries in East Africa, experiencing famine along the way, to later experiencing food insecurity, which has manifested into their children’s lives. Bringing those experiences into my educational pursuits is part of my purpose at the Friedman School.
Each course I’ve taken thus far allows me to not only complete assignments and/or write papers but rather think deeply about how I can translate what is being taught and the work I produce into something I can cultivate beyond the classroom and take action upon. Learning about food policy and nutrition science allows me to understand how policies can be further improved to increase an equitable food system, and the nutrition science aspect has allowed me to use science-based evidence to spread awareness on proven scientific findings in an era of misinformation and disinformation.
The Friedman School has exceeded my expectations with regards to the curriculum I have been exposed to, the opportunities I have been involved in, and most importantly, working with me to meet my financial needs.
The Friedman School has given me an opportunity that will undoubtedly open so many doors for me to expand my pathway toward becoming a competent food policy and nutrition advocate and expert, while allowing me to gradually build up to pursuing my dream goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian as well as working in the food policy world. The Friedman School is truly living up to its goals and expectations by creating an equitable and inclusive space for students such as myself. Coming from a minority background having lived with poverty and food insecurity, the Friedman School has exceeded my expectations with regards to the curriculum I have been exposed to, the opportunities I have been involved in, and most importantly, working with me to meet my financial needs. Without all of that, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be a part of the Friedman School community.
I have taken advantage of the various opportunities offered to me beyond classes throughout my time at the Friedman school. I currently serve as a graduate research assistant for Tufts Telehealth Intervention Strategies for WIC (THIS-WIC), which is a USDA funded study to test and evaluate the use of telehealth innovations in the delivery of USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Additionally, I have been thankful for the opportunity to serve as an evaluation enumerator at Daily Table in collaboration with Tufts School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health and Community Medicine for a survey study assessing SNAP users’ perception of the Double Up Food Bucks Program, consumption of fruit and vegetable intake, and financial constraints COVID-19 may have posed in accessing healthy food items for low-income communities in the Greater Boston Area.
I am endlessly thankful to the THIS-WIC team for giving me a chance at being involved in an innovative project that will expand equity among WIC mothers through the delivery of services utilizing telehealth to ease the challenges COVID-19 has posed. This involvement is personal to me, as my mother was a WIC recipient at one point in time herself. Additionally, I am in deep gratitude to the Daily Table team for allowing me to be part of a project that explores financial constraints COVID-19 has posed on low-income communities in the Boston area, and increasing participation in the Double Up Food Bucks incentive program to give SNAP users better access and increase their fruit and vegetable intake. This involvement is also personal to me, as my family were once recipients of SNAP.
My involvement in these groups/organizations reflects my passion and experience in continuing to increase equity in our food and health system. I believe it is imperative to be an active community member involved in civic engagement to cultivate the change our society so desperately needs.
I have also sought ways to be involved in the Friedman student body by beginning my involvement in the Friedman Service Scholars program, and most recently, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC). My involvement in these groups/organizations reflects my passion and experience in continuing to increase equity in our food and health system. I believe it is imperative to be an active community member involved in civic engagement to cultivate the change our society so desperately needs.
My purpose in life has always been to altruistically serve my community with a special focus on minority populations. Helping people to lead healthy lives through nutrition and health promotion allows them to be productive in their dreams and aspirations, thereby becoming active citizens in society by serving their own community and the world at large. This all starts with creating policies that can initiate that process.
While my time at Friedman is shortly coming to an end, at times I remind myself I am living the reality I have dreamed about, as someone who was hungry to make change in the food and nutrition policy space. At the same time, I think to myself of that little girl who used to eat convenience store snacks due to it being the cheapest option, due to it being all she knew. She is now smiling at how far she has gone. She was dreaming of a day when she could make sure no other child has to go through the uncertainty of not having a meal. No parent should feel hopeless, given their financial constraints, about being able to feed their child with nutritious foods. That little girl—she’s me. She has beat the odds and continues to wake up every day—renewing her passion for creating an equitable food system where all of humanity is able to reach their fullest potential. Because a productive society requires providing individuals with the basic needs to fuel their productivity, and to achieve that all starts with me, you. It starts with all of us.
Maryan Isack is a student in the Master's of Nutrition Science and Policy Program (MNSP) pursuing a career in dietetics as a Registered Dietitian. She also hopes to get involved in work around food policy.