In this installment of our Discover FSHN Series, we welcome Charles Overdevest, an undergraduate nutritional sciences major in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida! Charles took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his path to nutritional sciences, his work in undergraduate research, and his experience as a counselor for the Taste of Immokalee X UF program. Thank you, Charles!
What inspired you to study nutritional sciences?
My favorite classes in high school were biology classes, so I knew I wanted to study biology or a similar field in college. Once I thought about possible careers, I realized that I was not interested in the jobs biology majors often pursue. I looked at the related majors UF offered and discovered the FSHN Department.
Initially, I thought about pursuing a career in dietetics. Then I examined other potential careers and found research very exciting. I saw that nutritional science was the best major for me. I have become only more confident in my choice as I have become more involved in the FSHN Department. My favorite part about studying nutritional science is that it is a field where scientific advancement can provide immense benefits to large groups of people. Nutritional sciences is also an interdisciplinary field, integrating ideas from life sciences and social sciences. I think that an interdisciplinary approach to science is the best way to solve real-world issues.
Why did you decide to attend UF?
I decided to attend UF for a variety of reasons. First, the Florida Bright Futures scholarship is covering my tuition, allowing me to avoid student debt. I can’t understate how helpful the scholarship is, especially given my intention to pursue further education after my undergraduate degree.
Additional reasons include UF’s large size, providing a wide range of opportunities. Many schools would not have a major in nutritional sciences or clubs dedicated to my interests. In addition, because UF is an R1 research institute, more money is spent on research. As a result, I knew there would be many opportunities to participate in research as an undergraduate student.
Tell me about your work in Dr. Diana Taft’s lab. How did you get the position?
I work in Dr. Diana Taft’s lab as an undergraduate research assistant. Her research focuses on the infant gut microbiome. One project I’ve worked on in her lab is the Baby-2-Baby study. In this study, I helped examine whether the bacteria B. infantis can survive aerobically and transfer between infants.
Dr. Taft’s research is important because infant gut microbiome health is vital for the overall health of newborn babies. Her research will help us develop a better understanding of the infant gut microbiome which could hopefully help prevent diseases.
I got the undergraduate research position because I asked! During the first week of school in the summer of 2022, I met with my advisor, Herschel Johnson, who asked what my interests were. I told him how I wanted to pursue a career in research and academia and asked him about how I could participate in research as an undergraduate student.
Herschel graciously introduced me to Dr. Taft over Zoom, and Dr. Taft told me I could start doing undergraduate research for credit in her lab during the fall semester. I ended up doing research in her lab in the fall and spring semesters. When summer rolled around, Dr. Taft hired me to work full-time in her lab during the summer, and here we are now!
What was your experience like as a head counselor for the Taste of Immokalee X UF Experiential program?
My experience as the head counselor for the Taste of Immokalee x UF program was very pleasant. I first learned about the program from an FSHN advising email and subsequently spoke to Sharyn Passeretti and Dr. Susan Percival about the opportunity.
Education and tutelage have always been passions of mine, so being a counselor for a group of high school students who were coming to UF to learn about food science, business, and the college experience made me overjoyed. Some of the activities the students participated in included brainstorming about companies and products in the Wertheim building, being subjects in an orange juice taste panel, and exploring career options in the Career Connections Center.
I had a blast meeting with each of the students and learning about their interests and future goals. It was a truly remarkable group with far more insight into the areas of business and entrepreneurship than I ever had at that age. Throughout their time at UF, I could tell that the students were actively engaged with the different presenters and activities, and I can’t wait to see where their ambitions take them.
What are your plans in nutritional sciences?
My plan is to work in research, attend graduate school to get a Ph.D., and work in academia as a professor. Where and when these things will happen remains a question mark. I’m glad I have long-term big-picture goals, but I don’t want to overplan my future. I want to leave myself room to continue exploring my interests and passions before I fall into a final path. Whichever path I follow I want to be able to do research that contributes to global health. As of now, my research interests are in studying how we can provide adequate global nutrition in a world affected by climate change.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I was a kid, my mother introduced me to the sport of ultimate frisbee by bringing me out to the fields where she would play. In high school, I played for my school’s team, and that is when I fell in love with the sport.
I now play for the UF Men’s Club Ultimate A team and have the opportunity to compete against colleges across the country playing the sport I love. Frisbee is not only my sport, but also my exercise, competition, and camaraderie. Being a part of a team has enhanced the college experience for me and helped me develop immensely as a person. One of my greatest joys is giving back to the community of frisbee players I grew up in by coaching the ultimate team at my former high school.
If I opened your refrigerator right now, what would I find in it?
My refrigerator is mostly empty aside from vegetables, bread, and leftovers. I primarily cook using ingredients that can be found in my pantry. Pasta, rice, and beans constitute most of my meals. These staples are accompanied by vegetables such as onions, carrots, broccoli, bok choy, and bell peppers. Rotating the same few ingredients to make the most of my meals has been a great way to save time and money.
Often on the weekends, when I have more time, I’ll try making new dishes incorporating different ingredients. I enjoy the experimentation of making new foods and thinking about what I would change if I were to remake the recipe.
Interested in learning more about FSHN’s Nutritional Sciences programs? Read more here, here, and here!
P.S. The Discover FSHN Series highlights the unique experiences of UF’s Food Science and Human Nutrition students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Want to read more about the amazing work going on in the FSHN department? See our previous features below (click on arrows to expand):
Shannon Mai, Dietetics
Alex Colon, Dietetics and Jenny Duong, Food Science
Jackie Shannon, Nutritional Sciences
Jennifer Jordan, Food Science
Lily Tucciarone, Dietetics
Tim Cassella, Nutritional Sciences
Kate Mullis, Dietetics
Savanna Curtis, Food Science (M.S.)
Carley Rusch and Matthew Beke, Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)
Alexa Hosey, Dietetics (MS/DI)
Vicnie Leandre, Food Science (M.S.)
Rufus Theophilus, Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)
Amber Fritsche, Dietetics (MS/DI)
Amy Jones, Food Science (Ph.D.)
Melissa Perez Santana, Food Science (M.S.)
Jeena Endter, Dietetics (MS/DI)
Dr. Naim Montazeri, Food Science/Food Virology
Dr. Jeanette Andrade, Dietetics
Dr. Zhiyong Cheng, Nutritional Sciences
Dr. Juan Andrade Laborde, Global Nutrition
Dr. Razieh Farzad, Food Science
Dr. Beth Gankofskie, Dietetics
Dr. Anne Mathews, Nutritional Sciences
Dr. Diana Taft, Nutritional Sciences
Dr. Boce Zhang, Food Science/Food Microbiology
Dr. Cora Best, Nutritional Sciences
Dr. Katherine Thompson-Witrick, Food Science
Dr. Laura Acosta, Dietetics
Dr. Rebecca Gould, Dietetics, Postdoctoral Research
Dr. Becca Solch, Nutritional Sciences, Postdoctoral Research
Hannah Cooper, Dietetics, Private Practice
Dr. Richie Li, Food Science, Product Development
Doctor Brian Barrow, Nutritional Sciences, Medicine/Physician
Luciano Junoy, Food Science, Product Development
Carlin Dixon, Dietetics and Professional Dance
Jamie Zeldman, Dietetics, Research Coordinator
Ellen Bowser, Dietetics, Preceptor