Nutrition alumna supports future research leaders

After earning three degrees from Colorado State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Karen Morris-Fine led a successful career as a toxicologist for major companies like Coca-Cola and The Boeing Company. Now in retirement, Morris-Fine is leading by example to support research at CSU.

Karen Morris-Fine, a CSU alumna and donor to the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

With the establishment of two research funds, the Karen Morris-Fine Graduate Student and Early Career Faculty Success Fund and the Nutrition Research Leadership & Innovation Fund, Morris-Fine is providing support for graduate students and early career faculty participating in nutrition science research programs within the department. The two funds she started cover several aspects of research including graduate student salaries, equipment, conference fees and travel.

Morris-Fine hopes to inspire others to support research funding at CSU as well.

“Our graduate students will be the future leaders in their fields,” she said. “By funding research, we help them develop the skills necessary for their success. They will be advancing the knowledge base in their field and will be more equipped to analyze complex issues, critically evaluate complicated results and make informed actions based on evidence.”

This year, the College of Health and Human Sciences is encouraging donors to support life-changing research. As part of the Love Your State Day of Giving on April 19, alumni and friends can make a donation to support critical research across the college. Before April 19, go to the Love Your State online giving page and select “CHHS College-wide Research” to make a gift. 

Video by Christian Knoll

Growing up on the farm

Morris-Fine grew up in a small ranching community in Eastern Colorado where she worked to help her parents on the family farm. Her early exposure to food production helped spark her interest in nutrition.

“It was a good but tough life,” Morris- Fine said, recalling her youth. “I spent many summers hoeing weeds in bean fields. Though I enjoyed growing up on a farm, I didn’t have a strong desire to stay. It was really through my 4-H experiences that I realized there would be options better suited for me. I wanted to go to college and do something else.”

Journey to CSU

Colorado State University was an easy choice for Morris-Fine. Her experiences in 4-H allowed her to journey to the Front Range on occasion, where she relished the opportunities to see beyond the borders of her home. She made her decision to attend CSU after one summer during her high school years.

“I attended a Junior Engineers and Scientists Summer Institute Program on the CSU campus,” Morris Fine said. “I immediately fell in love with the campus and chemistry! Fortunately, I was admitted and received several 4-H scholarships and other grants that made it possible for me to attend.”

Morris-Fine’s choice for an education in nutrition largely stemmed from her health-conscious mother, who was trained as a nurse. Morris-Fine’s mother instilled in her at a young age the importance of having strong health with nutrition being the foundation.

“She always said that nutrition was one of her most important and toughest subjects, but also the one she enjoyed the most,” Morris-Fine said.

An education in nutrition

Attending CSU marked the beginning of a new chapter in Morris-Fine’s life. She earned three degrees from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, her bachelor’s in 1967, her master’s with an emphasis on meat science in 1970 and her Ph.D. in 1978.

Through the connections she made at CSU, Morris-Fine landed a position studying lipid metabolism with Dr. David Cramer, which led to work at the Mayo Clinic while also researching cholesterol metabolism at CSU with Dr. Jacqueline DuPont.

“My education provided the foundation for my success, expanded my opportunities, opened my mind to diverse perspectives and unlocked the door for a lifetime of continuous learning and experiences,” Morris-Fine said.

Professional life

After earning her Ph.D., Morris-Fine took a brief time off to take care of her son until he was old enough to attend school on his own. During this time, Morris-Fine and her husband moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she began her career working as a toxicologist at Coca-Cola. She later moved to upstate New York, where she served as a mammalian toxicologist performing risk assessments on superfund chemicals like arsenic, lead and mercury.

“It was easier for me to get a job in toxicology when I entered the market because of several chemical regulatory acts that passed in the 70s and 80s,” Morris-Fine said. ”This created a widespread demand for this field.  We moved a lot and there were always good jobs to build on my career, plus there was a lot of flexibility during those years when I was trying to build a career and raise a child at a time when there were few services to help working parents.”

However, a majority of Morris-Fine’s career was spent at The Boeing Company as their corporate toxicologist. There, Morris-Fine held top leadership roles in their safety and risk management programs and later earned a place in the Boeing Technical Fellowship Program as an associate technical fellow in toxicology for her contributions and leadership roles.

“Technical fellows represent less than 1.5 percent of the Boeing engineers and scientists, and only 1 percent of the fellows were women,” Morris-Fine said.

Active and healthy retirement

In her retirement, Morris-Fine still finds ways to stay active and healthy. She is an avid reader, traveler and outdoorswomen. She finds Colorado’s climate to be conducive to getting outside and she is captivated by the state’s natural beauty.

And, of course, Morris-Fine continues to be a strong supporter of CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, where she has a passion and enthusiasm for supporting the next generation of nutrition researchers.

If you would like to learn about additional ways you can support research in the College of Health and Human Sciences, contact Victoria Keller, director of development, at victoria.keller@colostate.edu or (970) 491-7340.

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