Kelly Clements ’14 worked in the quality assurance realm of the food industry before deciding to pivot in a new career direction. The Vermont native, who majored in Nutrition and Food Science at UVM, recently returned to her alma mater to pursue a UVM Master of Public Health degree.
We talked to the first-generation college student about the connection between public health and food, shifting her career focus, and her plans after she completes the UVM online public health program.
After graduating from UVM, you worked in quality assurance in the food industry. What made you decide to shift gears and pursue a graduate degree in public health?
I was not feeling that I was making an impact in people’s lives. Lab work, passing audits, and making sure product labels meet regulations are all great, but I was feeling extremely unfulfilled in my career.
What interests you most about the connection between public health and nutrition?
We’ve all heard the saying that nutrition can be the safest medicine or the slowest poison, and I agree 100 percent. I think a lot of the barriers to good nutrition, especially in Vermont, come down to lack of nutrition education and resources. For example, my family once lived 13 miles from the nearest grocery store in an area classified as a food desert. This is reality for many people in rural Vermont that I am passionate about improving. Everyone deserves easy access to affordable, healthy food.
You’ll complete the Master of Public Health Program in 2018. What are your plans after you earn your degree?
My goal is to get a job in environmental health, epidemiology, or nutrition/wellness.
Why did you return to UVM for your master’s degree?
Mostly familiarity. In-state tuition was a big draw, and the program’s online aspect was also appealing since I am working now and the flexibility fits my schedule. UVM feels like home and I know where to go for resources that I need. So far, the program has been amazing and my professors are extremely helpful, whether it’s through email or in person.
What inspires you?
My family. I was the first generation in my family to graduate from college and will be the first to earn a master’s degree. My incredible parents have been behind me every step of the way and every decision I’ve made—good or bad—so I want to do well and make them proud.
What career advice do you wish you had received as an undergraduate?
To start planning early and to figure out exactly how to search and apply for jobs. I graduated with no plan at all and feel like I floundered for a few years before researching public health and beginning this program. Now I am so much more focused on my goals and building my future personal and professional life. As a result, I’m getting great grades and seeing things fall into place.