The latest superstar student in our Discover FSHN series is Lily Tucciarone, an undergraduate dietetics major in her senior year in the FSHN department at UF. Lily grew up in Cocoa, FL, and she is not only committed to the undergraduate dietetics program, she has also earned a minor in Spanish! Learn about her lifelong journey to UF and the dietetics program, her incredible initiative in finding research opportunities, her career hopes, and the most unusual food she’s ever eaten. (It’s a doozy!)
Would you share how you chose the Dietetics program at UF?
I always knew I wanted to come to the University of Florida–my mom is an alumna–but the story of how I chose the dietetics program takes place a bit more recently. I was a science fair student from 7th grade to my senior year of high school, and I went to the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair a few times over the years. In fact, I was interviewed for the UF CALS scholarship while at the Fair!
During my interview, I was asked what I wanted to major in. I wanted to study nutrition, so I said nutritional sciences but explained to them that I eventually wanted to become a registered dietitian (RD or RDN). My interviewers explained that I would have to be a dietetics major to get on that path, so I switched my intended major on my UF application that night! At that point, I honestly did not know much about becoming an RD. I just knew I liked food and nutrition, so I kind of fell into the program, but I am so glad I did. Starting out freshman year knowing what my major was definitely had its advantages as I was able to get to know professors and be involved early.
I see the advantages of starting early! For example, you work in Dr. Henken’s lab. What have you been working on, and how did you start working for Dr. Henken?
I started in the Henken Lab the summer after my sophomore year (May 2019) as I was chosen to be the IFAS intern for Carley Rusch’s study on the Mediterranean Diet and gastrointestinal health in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). My grandmother had PD and at the time of applying for a lab, I saw that Carley’s study aligned with my interests and personal background. I had also heard amazing things about Dr. Henken and her lab from other student volunteers. I keep saying how lucky I am to have that opportunity. In the lab, I have made so many friends and connected with incredible faculty and graduate students.
I want to provide the opportunity to learn about more career options within the fields of nutrition and food science.
I continued working for the lab in the fall of 2019 and have stayed with the lab as a volunteer since! It has been incredible engaging in study visits and working with the participants through the various studies in the lab. This experience has given me such confidence in speaking with patients about nutrition. As a result of this research experience, I am interested in pursuing dietetics and neurology. I am currently writing an honor’s thesis to determine the effect of diet quality on intestinal permeability in PD from the data we collected for the Mediterranean diet study.
Congratulations on being elected the president of the FSHN Club! What has your experience been like so far this year, especially in the time of COVID-19? What do you have planned for this year?
Thank you so much! I am proud to represent such a great club along with the other officers. I first attended an FSHN Club meeting during the fall of my freshman year, and I have sought leadership opportunities since then. Shannon Mai, my friend and the former FSHN Club President, has mentored me, which has given me such a strong foundation for planning the Club’s agenda.
This year, we have had virtual General Body Meetings, and we have still seen high attendance rates on the Zoom calls. Thankfully, I was prepared for this virtual format as I was elected President back in April, when COVID-19 was already greatly affecting our lives. Thanks to the officers and Herschel Johnson, our advisor, we were able to put together an exciting lineup of guest speakers and virtual volunteering activities. My goal this year was to bring in familiar faces as well as new and fresh guest speakers. Due to the virtual format of our meetings, we have had professionals presenting from different states and time zones. Overall, I want to provide the opportunity to learn about more career options within the fields of nutrition and food science.
In the spring semester, we will continue having virtual general body meetings because of the ongoing global pandemic which would make it difficult to host an in-person meeting with our large member base. We may still have small, socially-distanced and masked gatherings for volunteering and involvement opportunities. I recognize the importance of meeting peers and getting that face-to-face contact with others, especially for the freshman and sophomores who may be new to the university and the Club. Looking back, this year has been incredible so far. I have even been able to connect with more members because it is so easy to send emails or schedule a Zoom call. I am proud of what our officer team has put out so far, and I look forward to the spring semester!
What do you want to do after graduation?
After graduation, I hope to attend a Master’s and Dietetic Internship combined program. This program will prepare me for taking the registration exam for dietitians and becoming a registered dietitian. In terms of a career, my interests in dietetics are mainly clinical, such as neurology and dietetics and working with older adults in the community. I also think the idea of private practice sounds really cool!
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time, I weight lift at the gym, play tennis, and spend time with my friends and boyfriend. I am always down for a trip to the coffee shop, and in non-COVID times my friends and I love to get dressed up and go out to eat or go to the football game (Go Gators!).
I also love to travel! In the summer of 2018, I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain, and I have also been to Morocco and Panama. Once the world is a safer place in which to travel, I will be resuming my travel plans to Europe! In addition, one of my favorite productive activities is going grocery shopping, and maybe that speaks a little to my career choice. I would be lying if I said I didn’t also spend some of my free time watching lifestyle, fitness, and DIY content on YouTube.
What’s the most unusual food you’ve ever eaten?
The most unusual food I have ever eaten is probably meal worms. They were dried and coated in a BBQ seasoning, so they really just tasted like chips.
Note: Some images in this post were taken prior to national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing.