Class of 2022: Dietetics graduate turns class experience into career in gut health research
Maggie Oleksiak earns second BGSU degree after turning focus to nutrition research
By Nick Piotrowicz
When Maggie Oleksiak ’20 ’22 enrolled as an undergraduate student at Bowling Green State University to pursue a degree in dietetics, she knew that she eventually had to take Research Methods in Nutrition, Foods and Dietetics.
What Oleksiak didn’t know was that the research-focused class would change the course of her career.
A native of Medina, Ohio, Oleksiak came to BGSU expecting to earn her degree to pursue careers in sports or as a clinician, but instead discovered her niche in nutrition research. Dr. Mary-Jon Ludy, chair of the Department of Public and Allied Health at BGSU, taught Oleksiak’s section of the research methods course, and from the start, Oleksiak said she saw a whole new world within her field.
“I more so wanted to do sports nutrition or be in a clinical setting originally, but I got to that class with Dr. Ludy and she made it so interesting,” Oleksiak said. “There is a lot of misinformation about nutrition on Instagram and on social media in general, so I was really interested in research because it was very methodical and showed how you go about finding an answer to a question that you have.”
During her time at BGSU, Oleksiak parlayed her interest into new experiences, starting with a grant proposal to Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURS), which provides funding and resources for undergrads interested in research.
Oleksiak also applied for one of the many no-experience-needed jobs available to students, taking a part-time role in a biology lab that allowed her to experience a research environment up close.
“To really understand research, I think it’s really important to have that background and experience of a controlled environment to make sure everything goes accordingly before you’re funding your own studies and writing your own papers,” she said. “I think that hands-on experience was a really great first step.”
Additionally, Oleksiak’s grant proposal to research how college students follow dietary guidelines was selected for CURS funding, and she presented her findings at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, another experience that has jump-started Oleksiak’s career.
After Oleksiak received her Bachelor of Science in dietetics, she stayed at BGSU to complete a Master of Food and Nutrition degree that she earned April 29.
In June, Oleksiak will begin her career as a full-time research coordinator at the University of Illinois’ Nutrition and Human Microbiome Laboratory, where she will aid in the study of human gut microbiome outcomes.
“Maggie has a beautiful way of opening herself to opportunities,” Ludy said. “In our research methods course, students work throughout the semester to collaboratively draft and review grant proposals focused on topics of personal and professional interest. When Maggie learned that she could conduct the research ‘for real’ with the support of [CURS], she applied at the earliest opportunity and was ultimately selected to present her findings at a national conference.”
As a graduate assistant, Oleksiak returned to assist with the same research methods class that inspired her, and worked with Biology and Nutrition faculty at BGSU on a variety of research projects. She also facilitated mentorship opportunities to help undergraduate nutrition students learn more about how to find success within the program.
“One of her major roles has been to serve as the point person for a mentorship program between newly enrolled and upper-level nutrition students,” Ludy said. “In this role, Maggie has set up 'mentor days' where students learn about campus and community resources, develop strategies for finding trustworthy information and build self-confidence in communicating their evidence-based professional knowledge to others.”
Oleksiak said curiosity was at the heart of her decision to become involved with research into nutrition, which she said is often widely misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Ideally, she said, research can help people make better choices in regards to food.
“I wanted to be able to answer my own questions and also interpret research that is already out there to help people understand what the article is really saying,” she said. “I want people to interpret information in a healthy way so they’re not just making all these broad assumptions. I want people to have a healthy relationship with food.”
Though she was a bit apprehensive to try research at first, Oleksiak said she will depart BGSU with a sense of gratitude that she took a chance on a handful of opportunities that helped her map a new course after graduation.
“I had just heard about research, but when Dr. Ludy came to me with those ideas of different research topics that she had, it was like, ‘Why not?’” Oleksiak said. “I was learning about research in class and it was really interesting, so I thought I’d try it to see if I liked it.
“It ended up being a career option for me because I really liked the interaction with the students and the professors, and taking on a mentor-like role, so I got a lot out of my experience here.”
Updated: 05/10/2022 11:55AM