First-generation grad Kali LeMaster hopes to use nutrition as agent for change

Food Science and Human Nutrition student Kali LeMaster is a survivor, an adult learner, a mentor, a First-Generation Award Scholar, and an outstanding College of Health and Human Sciences graduate for Spring 2019.

As a first-generation student, LeMaster’s road to higher education was primarily unpaved. Growing up, LeMaster never considered what her future held – she was solely driven by survival. After experiencing abuse and trauma in her home life, LeMaster removed herself from her home at 16 years old to receive help at a residential treatment facility.

“My parents gave their rights away to me at 16, which suddenly meant that I was in the foster care system,” LeMaster said. “Once I aged out of that system at 18, I had zero support.”

With seemingly nowhere to go, LeMaster sought out purpose. In spite of the difficulties she faced, she still felt the intrinsic need to help others whose experiences were similar to her own. LeMaster’s passion for service led her to the Excelsior Youth Center in Aurora, Colorado, a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth.

Finding purpose

While working at Excelsior, LeMaster was drawn to the cooking program, “Cottage Cooks,” which led to her increased interest in nutrition.

“I spent eight years working as a group living counselor and crisis intervention counselor for at-risk teenage girls,” LeMaster said. “I spent time with the girls in the unit, helping them learn life skills, and we also focused on kitchen safety and nutrition.”Outstanding CSU grad, Kali LeMaster.

In her daily interactions with the girls, she recognized the importance of nutrition and how it affected their attitudes and well-being beyond simply satisfying hunger. It was through Cottage Cooks that LeMaster noticed how much these girls benefited from nutrition, and how they suffered from a lack of knowledge about the topic.

Unfortunately, funding for Cottage Cooks was eventually cut by the USDA. At another crossroads, LeMaster made the decision to take action by pursuing education.

“Shortly after we lost Cottage Cooks, I left the facility because I saw a huge decline in the girls’ behaviors,” LeMaster said. “I was so frustrated that we couldn’t acknowledge how nutrition played a role in that, so I decided to come back to school. The only way to make a change is to be the change you want to make.”

Determined to spearhead positive reform in the world through nutrition, LeMaster found CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, where she is majoring in food science and nutrition.

With nearly no financial support, LeMaster applied and was accepted to CSU as a transfer student from CU-Denver, where she had been studying psychology. When former scholarship coordinator Barbara Musselwhite contacted LeMaster to inform her that she received the First Generation Award Scholarship, she seized the opportunity, using her past experiences and inspirations as fuel for the new chapter of her life. This spring, LeMaster also was the recipient of the Jackson Distinguished First Generation Scholarship.

First Generation Award

Kali LeMaster studying in classThe First Generation Award Program encourages participation in higher education by first-generation college students who have significant financial need and promotes diversity within the University’s student population.

“Being a First Generation Award Scholar is an honor, and it’s so humbling,” LeMaster said. “The application process required me to bare my truths, uncover all of my past traumas, and decide what I wanted to do with my life.”

LeMaster’s truths resonated with the scholarship committee, and upon her selection and transfer to CSU, LeMaster found a home. Moreover, she found that there were individuals who valued her story and who were not intimidated nor put off by her past. These individuals, peers and mentors alike, became LeMaster’s family.

1 in 4 CSU students is First Generation. Read about Colorado State University’s mission – First Generation University Initiative.

Campus support system

At her transfer orientation, LeMaster met Fabiola Mora. Mora, currently the director of the Academic Advancement Center, was one of the first people to not only listen to LeMaster’s story, but to also share her own story. This exchange helped LeMaster ease into CSU and gave her the inclination that she had a genuine support system on campus.

“Fabiola connected me to so many different services so that my support system could expand, and I would find my home at CSU,” LeMaster said.

The inspiration that LeMaster receives from Mora is mutual, as Mora believes in the impact LeMaster has had on CSU, and how greatly she will impact the world.

“CSU is lucky to have Kali as a student; she has been outstanding throughout her entire life. Kali is perseverance,” Mora said. “I believe she has the potential to develop systems that provide access to nutritional programs and close access gaps which will impact behavior change in our society.”

CSU involvement

During her time at CSU, LeMaster has been involved in a number of activities, including employment as a student nutrition analyst for CSU Housing and Dining Services, where she is responsible for recipe nutrition analysis. She has also volunteered as a research assistant for the Health, Emotion, and Aging Research Team, as a kitchen assistant for Columbine Health Systems and Respite Care, and as a nutrition assistant at CSU’s Early Childhood Center. She has been a part of CSU’s Fostering Success Program and the Academic Advancement Center, as well as two honor societies.
Kali hosting a tasting event in Rams Horn Dining Hall

Moving forward, LeMaster will pursue her master’s degree at CSU in food science and nutrition in the community nutrition specialization. Through her passion and persistence, LeMaster sets an example of endurance, striving for a future of greatness in spite of her past.

LeMaster is grateful to her mentors for their role in her success, and to the girls, who are now women, whom she mentored.

“I know that when I succeed, they can be inspired,” LeMaster said. “It is because of them that I work so hard and that 10 years from now we can all look back and say that we made it. We beat the odds.”

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