Food Science and Human Nutrition outstanding grad managed multiple clinical research trials while earning her master’s degree

Allegra outdoors wearing a hat holding carrotsAllegra Vazquez has the distinction of being a two-time outstanding graduate of the Colorado State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. In 2017, she completed her undergraduate degree in nutrition and food science and is now graduating in Spring 2022 with her master’s degree in food science and nutrition.

Vazquez was heavily involved in research while completing her degree, serving as the clinical coordinator for the Functional Foods Laboratory and the Intestinal Health Laboratory while working towards her master’s degree. Learn more about her experiences in the following Q and A.

Where are you from and what brought you to CSU? 

I am from Denver, Colorado. I came to CSU because I wanted to stay in Colorado for my academic career and had received a full ride, undergraduate, merit-based scholarship from the Sean Ranch Lough Foundation.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to graduation? How have you persevered through unforeseen circumstances?

I had quite the unique experience getting my master’s because I am a student employee, meaning I was balancing my education and my career. As the clinical coordinator for both the Functional Foods Laboratory and the Intestinal Health Laboratory, I have managed, trained, and directed more than 10 students, on a total of eight different clinical trials pertaining to the effects of foods, dietary supplements, and pro/prebiotics on cardiovascular, metabolic, and gastrointestinal health.

On top of this, when the pandemic hit, I continued working remotely and provided participants with the available information, listened to their concerns, and reassured them of their participation, thus keeping retention rates high. I also continued to make sure staff and lab members were trained on approved COVID-19 and laboratory specific procedures. As study visits were disrupted, I remained in communication with our sponsors to identify and implement solutions to their deviated treatment consumption plan.

I persevered through these unforeseen circumstances by having our participant’s safety and rights to autonomy at the forefront of my interest. As a human researcher, the participant’s rights are of the utmost importance, and keeping their needs in mind allowed me to focus on their wellbeing.

How have your academic experiences here and your professors, mentors, and advisers helped you overcome these obstacles and/or be successful in your grad program? 

I have had wonderful mentors while seeking both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. My current mentor, Associate Professor Sarah Ardanuy Johnson, has provided me with many opportunities to further advance my personal and academic careers, either by sending me to training sessions, encouraging me to apply for certain scholarships, writing letters of recommendation on my behalf, and reviewing my poster presentations, writings, and speeches. When I was feeling overwhelmed with school and work, I felt comfortable expressing my feelings because I knew I had a listening ear. During the pandemic, Dr. Johnson was always available and supported my ideas on how to appropriately handle specific situations.

What activities have you been most involved in?

I have been most involved in research at CSU. My core responsibilities include supervising, executing, and revising study-related duties, i.e., collection and processing of samples and directing the recruitment, enrollment, and scheduling of study visits involving participants and laboratory staff. Interestingly, I have also had the opportunity to develop regulatory materials, as one of our studies required implementation of FDA regulatory guidelines. Generally, this is not typical for research volunteers or laboratory staff to be involved in regulatory aspects of studies or have conversations with sponsors, so I have been lucky to see and be involved in the entire lifecycle of a research project.

I have also been able to volunteer with “Growing Food Security Project” (formerly the ARDEC South Food Security Project). Through that program, I was able to work alongside FSHN students and others in different departments across campus to transplant, weed, maintain, and harvest garden goods to be donated to CSU’s Rams Against Hunger food pantry. I had such a great experience getting my hands dirty, especially knowing that those facing hunger and food insecurity would be to access fresh food due to our efforts.

What are some accomplishments that you are most proud of during your time at CSU? 

Allegra in Moby Arena with a friendI am most proud of being 2019’s alumni commencement speaker. I have always found it challenging to speak in front of crowds but being able to represent the Alumni Association and yelling “Go Rams!” to the graduating class was such a unique experience.

I am also proud of all the successfully trained students that have been involved in the clinical studies. Knowing that they feel comfortable interacting with participants and properly performing assessments is a direct reflection on their confidence and my ability to support that.

What will you miss most about CSU? 

I think I will miss CSU’s community impact. It is amazing to see how much passion students, faculty, and staff have for CSU and how that inspires program development that services Fort Collins and the surrounding areas. I often talk to people outside of the institution and hearing them speak about CSU fondly has made me realize the impact it has on the community.

What are your plans after graduating? 

Because I am an employee of CSU, I have the opportunity to stay in this position and possibly expand my current role as a manager of clinical studies within our department. However, my goal is to eventually become a certified clinical research coordinator for a company in industry or an institution. While I love interreacting with participants, I would like to elevate my position to one that is an expert in human research, participant rights, and all regulatory aspects of clinical research.

The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.