CALS Alumna Highlight: Verena Vancil
University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences alumna Verena Vancil earned a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics from the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department in 2019. She works as a Senior Public Health Nutritionist for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at the Florida Department of Health.
What brought you to CALS and your department? What first sparked your interest in your major?
Having attended a large research university in Colombia, my home country, being part of the Florida’s #1 school was a dream of mine! My first experience with dietitians was through my work in school nutrition, where I was able to appreciate the added value that nutrition experts bring to this field. For example, registered dietitians are trained in handling menu substitutions for students with special nutrition needs, such as allergies and certain autoimmune or metabolic conditions. Fortunately, I learned that CALS has a top-rated dietetics program right here in Gainesville.
Was there a particular CALS faculty/staff or mentor that was influential in your career path?
As a non-traditional student and full-time school nutrition worker, I faced some particular challenges in my journey. As dietetics program director, Dr. Beth Gankofskie provided honest advice on what becoming a registered dietitian entails. She constantly reminded me that I was valued in the program because of my background, not despite it. This guidance allowed me to plan strategically towards applying to dietetic internships, a required step in becoming a registered dietitian. Dr. Bobbi Henken was also instrumental in my progress in CALS. I met her as my nutrition in the life cycle instructor and during her office hours, but she contributed something more than knowledge – she offered confidence-building encouragement and life advice.
What do you find to be the best part of your job?
After completing the dietetic internship and passing the national registration exam, dietitians are qualified to work in a wide variety of settings. Clinical dietetics, community nutrition, school nutrition, food service management, research, sports nutrition, wellness and private practice are some examples. Not only it is a broad field, but also our roles are just as varied. Dietitians offer one-on-one nutrition counseling, group patient education, and influence communities as food service or clinical nutrition directors.
What are some exciting projects you have worked on in the course of your career?
During my internship at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), I had the opportunity to participate in the School Meals Administrative Review (SMAR) in the Escambia County school district. The SMAR is a comprehensive evaluation of school meal programs in schools participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, required every three years. In the months before the review, the nutrition standards team at FDACS examines food records to ensure that the meals offered to students comply with the National School Lunch Program regulations. The process culminates in a multi-day, visual inspection of meal services at several county’s schools to ensure they meet all requirements. The experience allowed me to travel to the feeding sites and observe the students interact with nutrition professionals, from the perspective of the state agency.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in the same career path as you?
It’s never too early to start researching internship programs. Completing this step is required to sit for the national registration exam and the selection process is extremely competitive. Identify which programs align with your professional goals, personality, finances and location. Once you have identified a few programs that are a good fit for you, begin building meaningful experiences that will make you a strong candidate.
“Utilize the resources CALS offers and develop meaningful relations with faculty and advisors – they will be your best asset.” – Verena Vancil
Dietetics is a challenging profession that applies the science of food and nutrition to the health and well-being of individuals and groups. The Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) at the University of Florida meets the Standards of Education set forth by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Find a CALS major that suits your interests by taking our majors quiz. You can also find information regarding our undergraduate and graduate programs on our website. Questions for Verena Vancil regarding her experiences in dietetics should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.