Meet the 2022 FERN fellows

FERN logoLast week marked the end of the GFRP’s inaugural Fellowship for Exploring Research in Nutrition (FERN), a 10-week summer research internship for undergraduate students interested in food policy research. In spring, we welcomed outstanding students Emerald Izuakor from UNC-Chapel Hill, Tiffany Williams from NC State University, and Sydni Wright from UNC Charlotte.

Over the course of the summer, the fellows built foundational research skills, attended professional development workshops, conducted informational interviews with faculty and alumni from the Department of Nutrition, participated in the team’s research journal clubs, and learned about current topics and methods in nutrition policy research.

Each fellow also conducted and wrote a literature review on a nutrition-related topic of their choosing and presented their findings to the team at the end of July. Read more about their research and experiences below:

2022 FERN Fellows standing on steps outside GFRP office; from left: Tiffany Williams, Emerald Izuakor, and Sydni Wright
From left: Tiffany Williams, Emerald Izuakor, and Sydni Wright. By Jon Gardiner for UNC-Chapel Hill

Emerald Izuakor

Rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Major: Nutrition and Hispanic Linguistics

FERN research project: Exploring the effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 on the nutrient density of food

Key research findings: Based on my research, elevated CO2 concentrations lower the density of important nutrients such as iron, zinc, and protein in many of our crops. However, the exact mechanisms that facilitate this are unclear, so that is an area for future research. If current trends continue, we will be facing a public health and food security crisis that will affect mainly the Global South. Hopefully, the correct legislation and investment will mitigate this issue.

Future research interests: Environmental nutrition; maternal-fetal nutrition; sustainable agriculture; and health and food equity

Favorite FERN workshops: Informational interviews

Tiffany Williams

Rising senior at NC State University

Major: Nutrition Sciences and Spanish

FERN research project: Innovative ways to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in school children

Key research findings: The most effective ways to increase fruit and vegetable consumption are to provide faculty, parents, and children with nutrition education, access to food from local farms, and participation in school gardens. These interventions need more funding so that they can be continued over a longer period of time to see sustained results of better health outcomes. 

Future research interests: In the future, I want to study the use of food as medicine, global public health, and health communication.

Favorite FERN workshops: My favorite workshops were with Dr. Deborah Stroman about achieving racial equity in an unjust society. The grad school panels were also very informative, including hearing people’s different journeys on the road to a Masters or PhD.

Sydni Wright

Rising junior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Major: Public Health Major, Spanish Minor

FERN research project: East Durham’s Food Apartheid

Key research findings: Overall, I found that individuals living in areas identified as food deserts are more likely to experience adverse health outcomes, re-hospitalizations, and earlier death when compared to those not living in areas identified as food deserts. I also found that people living in food deserts are more likely to be BIPOC, have lower incomes, and have lower levels of education compared to people living outside food deserts. This means that people who already face marginalization are further marginalized because their place of residence determines the level of access they will have to nutritious foods.

Future research interests: Healthcare systems policy and management

Favorite FERN workshops: Race Realities with Dr. Debby Stroman; student panels; Positionality Mapping

The entire GFRP team wishes Emerald, Tiffany, and Sydni all the best this school year and in their future academic and professional endeavors!

The FERN program aims to increase the diversity of students pursuing graduate degrees in the field of nutrition in the United States by recruiting from populations that are currently under-represented in the field of nutrition or academia and/or are from historically oppressed backgrounds. Students interested in summer 2023 fellowships should check the FERN website for application information.