CALS Alumna Highlight: Marci Levine
University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences alumna Marci Levine earned her undergraduate degree from the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department (FSHN) in 1999. She majored in Nutritional Science and is currently working to change policies and practices to diversify the faculty at Lehigh University.
What brought you to CALS and your department? What first sparked your interest in your major?
I was interested in a strong science degree which would give me flexibility as I was uncertain about my exact next step, though knew it would involve science and health in some way. Practically speaking, the prereqs made sense to me: it had the right mix of math courses, my foreign language, SAT score and high school courses satisfied the language requirement, and there were several upper-level classes I could take at the medical school and still leave space for other electives. I was expecting to apply to medical school or become a physical therapist and the FSHN Nutritional Sciences degree maximized my possibilities. I was able to take plenty of interesting electives outside the college, including a minor in business administration.
Was there a particular CALS faculty/staff or mentor that was influential in your career path?
Dr. Turner and Dr. Borum both had a big impact on my time at UF and on my career path. Dr. Turner’s course came early in my time at UF. From her, I learned about nutrition needs throughout the lifespan and thought that the science of how food optimizes health would be part of my career. She also mentioned experiences as a mother and scientist/teacher which modeled early on and normalized working in science and parenting. I didn’t realize to what degree doing so pushed back on harmful stereotypes about women in science, and I’m grateful for many people who never made me feel parenthood and science were incompatible. Dr. Turner quickly became a key advisor as I selected courses each semester. Then I found the course Dr. Borum taught inspiring about the relationship between food and disease and changing the course of the disease, and I spent time volunteering in Dr. Borum’s group. It was probably the first time I saw up close the direct impact nutrition research could have on health outcomes, and how good practices and nutrition education can benefit the whole family. As I came to my senior year, I was mostly interested in the human behavioral aspects of food choices, metabolism, and health outcomes, making me realize pursing something other than medical school may make more sense. Dr. Turner guided me to apply for graduate programs where I could explore these opportunities in more depth; I didn’t know much about graduate school, she explained it, and so I took the GRE. Ultimately one of the programs accepted me and had funding, so I joined Purdue’s interdisciplinary nutrition program.
What do you find to be the coolest/best part of your job/career?
There have been several very cool things about starting a career in nutrition science, and they all relate to being open to different possibilities and using evidence to guide decision making. As a result, I’ve been able to travel, reinvent myself and keep learning. As an example, in graduate school, I thought I’d be researching human behavior/dietary choices. So, to ‘check out’ the other kinds of research, I rotated into a group that used more applied molecular biology to ask questions about nutrients and biochemical pathways in disease- but I never rotated out because it became something I wanted to keep learning more about. Then, near the end of my degree, while applying for post-docs, I met the executive of a non-profit who wanted more scientists on staff to interface with policy, academic research, and the food industry. I was offered a position there and learned I enjoyed organizing and exploring the state of the science on issues that impact policy. Soon after, our daughters were born, and then, my family was going to be moving from Washington DC to Pennsylvania. As wife and parent to twin toddlers, I wasn’t sure how leaving DC and finding a new job would play out without an exhausting commute, so I asked if I could work remotely, and I kept my position for a number of years more. Soon, though my time with that organization ended, and I spent some time with my daughters. I was beginning to feel like I had let all my mentors down, as I began looking for new jobs within industry or the non-profit sectors. I found a new opportunity at Lehigh University with a federally funded project to address the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. I thought I’d apply because I felt like a woman who leaked out of the metaphorical pipeline. Now, I have a role in an incredibly supportive university setting and I continue to apply science-based evidence to policy decisions to support diversifying the professoriate in STEM. I’ve been able to travel for this role too and have collaborated with others across the country. My pathway is definitely not-linear, and yet I’m always drawing on the background I gained from my time at UF of being curious and going where people support me and my interests.
What are some exciting projects you have worked on in the course of your career?
I’ve worked on projects that collect the state of the science on dietary fiber, information useful to the always evolving dietary guidelines and nutrition facts panel requirements. I’ve organized international conferences including visits to Athens, Paris, and Bogota which help governments bring science of apply risk assessment and detection methods into decision making about genetically modified crops. I’m currently co-leading efforts at Lehigh University to change policies and practices to diversify the faculty and support more diverse scholars to achieve their professional goals, and do this with partnerships across the country. I’ve been able to travel from Vienna to Denver with this work.
“The FSHN department and the degrees it offers open lots of doors, including ones you didn’t know existed. Invest in taking classes outside your major and trying out things that scare you.” – Marci Levine
The Food Science and Human Nutrition is one of the world’s largest combined academic programs where food science, nutritional sciences, and dietetics are all studied within one department. After completing undergraduate degrees, FSHN students typically move on to employment in the food industry or healthcare settings, graduate or professional programs. 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.