As the university grows with each passing year, so do the interest levels in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management.
The department, one of the oldest on campus, saw its start in 1917 as a major called domestic arts. This program was created to start science of homemaking course to teach women how to run healthy, clean homes for their families.
As interests levels rose and more women began enrolling in college post World War II, the department changed in form and name until most recently, in 2005, it became the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management to reflect both areas of focus.
Emmy Parkes, didactic program in dietetics director, broke down one of the prominent goals of the department. She said it’s about “preparing students to either go into a nutrition health profession or in the hospitality management industry, and they overlap some in the middle.”
Associate Professor Kathy Knight said the programs are “like two concentric circles that overlap with food.” Both focus on educating people about nutrition and nutrients they need. The dietetics side is more science-based about chemistry, and the hospitality management side is business-based about feeding and housing people.
According to the University of Mississippi website, the number of students with majors in the department has risen to more than 400. Many classes are filled with students who have majors outside the department.
“They’re taking it because they are having an interest in nutrition, or they need the class as a requirement,” Knight said.
Most of the three sections of intro to nutrition students are mostly non-department majors, and while the main subject matter of the course is focused on nutrition, Knight said things like sleep and exercise are discussed.
“I think they really gain an appreciation for the subject matter and its importance,” Knight said. “It’s really a great way to look at yourself and say: ‘Am I treating my body the way I should be?”’
Several classes are major exclusive, but intro to nutrition is open to all students. Parkes said even the intro class has a heavy science base and can be difficult for some students without a science background. She said: “I would honestly love to have a nutrition class that is more for consumers, the general public.”
Another goal is to teach students how to evaluate information on their own. “I think today’s students know more about nutrition than students did 20 years ago,” she said. “However, I also think students have more misconceptions about nutrition than they had 20 years ago.”
While there are a surplus of resources that are internet accessible, not all provide accurate information. “I think there’s a lot of people who have done their own research that’s just kind of misguided,” said Parkes. “A lot of it is just knowing what’s true and what’s not true. Because there’s just so many myths out there…”
As the department has changed over time, so have demographics of students declaring department majors. Throughout its beginning years, the department was dominated solely by women, but as time progressed, more men became involved in the two fields of nutrition and hospitality management.
“…We still are a profession mainly of women, but we are getting more men,” said Knight. “It’s a profession that we see more and more men coming into because the salaries are getting better, and because of things like the interest in sports nutrition and management.”
To the students who are unsure, but thinking about majoring in nutrition or hospitality management, Knight suggests talking to others in the field to get information.
“The more information you can get about that subject or career, the better off you’re going to be,” she said. Another recommendation is to visit someone or spend a day with them working in the field, especially a professor.
“That’s what we really love to do,” she said. “Professors love to talk about their field, but students hardly ever come. If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t be in it,” said Knight.
The department’s growth has risen since its creation. Parkes said, “We may be small, but we are definitely growing.”