Research and leadership lead to success

Student studies body composition in older females

By Dr. Mary-Jon Ludy and Ann Krebs

At a young age, Lauren Yacapraro’s parents took a proactive approach when they had her visit a dietitian for a predisposed medical condition. Years later, when Yacapraro determined she wanted to work in the health care field, she looked into becoming a dietitian or a physician assistant (PA). She couldn’t pick one, so decided on both. 

Yacapraro will have dual licensure as a registered dietitian (RD) and a physician’s assistant once she’s accepted into PA school, or she can work for a year as a dietitian and then reapply. She will find out if she’s reached her ultimate goal of starting PA school in March or April. But first, she'll receive her diploma Dec. 18. 

When she first visited Bowling Green State University, Yacapraro said, “The food and nutrition people were great and the Honors College offered me many opportunities that pulled me in.”

“The Honors College programs were very helpful my freshman year, particularly the critical thinking classes,” she shared. “I learned how to look at research and needed to choose a research-based project that I knew was important to both dietetics and PA.”

Yacapraro approached Dr. Mary-Jon Ludy, assistant professor in food and nutrition, about conducting a nutrition research project because she knew it would take a lot of preparation and wanted to make sure Ludy could be one of two advisers on her honors project. 

“Shortly after meeting Lauren, Dr. Amy Morgan and I learned about a National Institutes of Health (NIH) translational research grant focused on research leading to new health care practices, community programs and policies affecting older persons,” Ludy said. 

They began a pilot investigation to compare the accuracy of anthropometric indices, such as body mass index, to body composition measures, such as body fat percentage, in predicting obesity and therefore assessing health risk in older adults. An unexpected recruitment problem was that many older adult females were modest and felt uncomfortable in one-on-one testing environments with male research assistants. 

“To help us fill this void, Lauren focused her honors project on body composition in older adult females—an ideal fit given her career goal of obtaining dual licensure as a physician’s assistant and registered dietitian, combined with a budding interest in gerontology sparked by Carrie Hamady’s, lecturer in food and nutrition, Life Cycle Nutrition: The Middle and Later Years course,” Ludy said. 

Yacapraro presented preliminary research findings at numerous professional venues. In October, she was first author on a poster presentation at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE), which is the premier meeting for practicing dietitians in the U.S. 

In April, she was first author on a poster presentation for the Northwest Ohio Undergraduate Symposium for Research and Scholarship, which is a regional conference attended by undergraduate researchers from five institutions. Last February, Yacapraro was co-author on a platform session at the 2015 Aging Summit (London, U.K.), which was an international meeting focused on the aging process. Drawing on these preliminary findings, a manuscript is underway for the Journal of Gerontology and an NIH grant proposal is in progress. “This level of research involvement is not characteristic of students in our undergraduate program,” Ludy said. 

Yacapraro’s academic accomplishments are equally notable. She maintained a 3.93 GPA and was awarded a four year BGSU Heritage Scholarship. She was a two-time recipient of the Laura E. Heston Scholarship, a competitive award selected by faculty and granted to just one or two of approximately 150 BGSU nutrition students. Additionally, she was recognized by faculty of BGSU’s College of Education and Human Development as a recipient of the Wrey and Robert Barber Scholarship as well as her home county’s Amici Italiana Scholarship for two consecutive years. 

“I can’t say enough good things about the professors, the dietetics department, and the Honors College...Without Dr. Ludy I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I have been. She helped me with edits and pushed me along while encouraging me to try new things. I wouldn’t have even thought about presenting at a conference if it weren’t for her.”

“Not surprisingly, Yacapraro is a pleasure to have in class,” Ludy shared. “She comes in on time and is always prepared and attentive. She is willing to participate in class discussion, but does not monopolize it. Her contributions demonstrate original thought and creativity. She is an effective speaker and educator, with strong communication skills.”

Yacapraro is also a natural leader who is well respected and responsible. She is currently president of BGSU’s Student Nutrition Association and holds leadership positions in the Honors College and the Omega Phi Alpha National Service Sorority, where she has volunteered extensively. 

“I can’t say enough good things about the professors, the dietetics department, and the Honors College,” Yacapraro said. “Without Dr. Ludy I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I have been. She helped me with edits and pushed me along while encouraging me to try new things. I wouldn’t have even thought about presenting at a conference if it weren’t for her.”

“Carrie Hamady has been extremely helpful too,” Yacapraro continued. “I took a different route than most students that are graduating in December because I wanted to do a distance internship. She really helped me narrow my focus on what I wanted to do. The entire department, as a whole, has been great.”

After graduation Yacapraro will be busy with a distance dietetics internship through Iowa State University that starts in January. The distance program is based in Iowa, but she will be completing rotations in her hometown of Wooster, Ohio, working at different sites that she set up herself and creating her own schedule. 

Most of the rotations will take place at the Wooster Community Hospital. Yacapraro will work in medical nutrition therapy, a diabetes clinic, WIC clinic, a dialysis center and food service management at a local school. She will complete her internship in early July and then sit for her boards to receive the RD credential.

“As a dietitian, I believe you have to be outspoken and advocate for your patients and clients in what is nutritionally best for them.” Yacapraro said. “My leadership roles, working with different people and making decisions have really helped me determine where I want to go in my profession and how I want to present myself as a dietitian and physician assistant. I want to be personable and a good person so people feel they can talk to me and come to me to get real help.

“I love dietetics and that’s why I wanted to include the PA part. People don’t see dietitians on a regular basis, so I think it’s good to have dietitians that can work in other fields. I’ll be seeing patients, and having a background in nutrition is important to give people accurate, preventive sources for a healthy lifestyle.”

Yacapraro said BGSU was the best place for her, but that's she's looking forward to taking the next step. "Applying what we have learned in the classroom, getting to know other dietitians, networking, getting in to the field to actually learn what it’s all about and being exposed to the different areas that we’ve talked about. I’m very excited to advocate for people’s health and nutrition in a preventive stance and proactive way.”