Story by Aiko Link
Alyssa Leib and Elliot Graham are both graduate students in the Colorado State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition who took an interest in the nutrition field during high school when, as athletes, they could feel the internal impact food was having on their performance.
Graham is studying the gut microbiota and how the foods we eat affect cardiovascular disease. He also explores questions surrounding the immune system and how it links to the gut microbiota and cardiovascular function. Graham’s long-term career goal is to become a professor in his own research laboratory but studying for his Ph.D. qualifying exam comes first.
Leib’s undergraduate studies in international development led to an interest in food security and public health. She decided to return to school after volunteering as a researcher studying the health of coffee farmers in Central America. Ultimately, Leib’s thesis was about the role that parenting plays in the physical activity and screen time of preschoolers from low-income families; her research took her to the communities of Eastern Colorado.
After completing her M.S. and dietetic internship, she hopes to become a registered dietician and work in a community setting at the intersection of food security and national health.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic
As most of us can relate, the COVID-19 pandemic threw up some unforeseen roadblocks for Graham and Leib. Graham moved from the east coast to CSU, to a campus he had only visited once, and an apartment he’d never even seen! Though the pandemic brought social disruptions and made it more difficult to meet new people, Graham said he found some awesome new friends at CSU and in Fort Collins.
For Leib, the switch to remote learning challenged her motivation at times, making coursework, research, and communication with peers much more difficult. Both Leib and Graham credit their support systems for guiding and inspiring them. The patience and encouragement of his supervisors, associate professors Chris Gentile and Tiffany Weir, as well as mentor and hiking buddy, Interim Department Head Chris Melby, helped Graham succeed and gain confidence. The time and expertise of faculty members Laura Bellows (now at Cornell University) and Megan Mueller have really made the difference for Leib.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Graham and Leib are excited and passionate about the field of nutrition. Graham describes it as “ever-evolving” while Leib professes that it is a multifaceted subject with so much depth that she just can’t quite narrow down which direction she wants to go because every direction is so intriguing! Both of these outstanding Rams have exciting careers ahead of them in the field of nutrition.