It wasn’t until after Dolores Hernandez completed her business degree that she realized she was more interested in the numbers behind food than sales.
Hernandez was hired as UCLA’s first Dining Services nutrition education coordinator last year. She splits her time between maintaining the online dining hall menus, advising students on dietary issues and educating dining hall staff about food allergens or dietary concerns.
“It’s interesting, because I get asked a lot of questions about the science rather than the practical aspects,” Hernandez said. “I’ve had to go back and read my biochem books,” she added with a laugh.
Hernandez started a nutrition education program for students called AskDolores last year. She also helped create a gluten-free pantry, which is stocked with gluten-free food for students sensitive to gluten, in De Neve’s dining hall in January. This year, Hernandez hopes to educate more students about the programs, she said.
One of her favorite parts about the job is interacting with students.
“Every day is different and the students are very open to learning new things,” she said.
Hernandez said that she occasionally receives strange or out-of-the-ordinary questions, recalling one student who asked her: “Will my brain die if I don’t eat vegetables?”
Because of her own switch from business to nutrition, Hernandez said she also enjoys answering emails from students who are interested in nutrition but are unsure about their career paths.
After graduating from UC Riverside with a bachelor’s degree in business, Hernandez started working in restaurants.
She noticed many customers were concerned about eating well but they didn’t have enough information to make healthy choices. Hernandez said she realized she wanted to help people facing the same problems.
And so she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York and received a master’s degree in food studies from New York University.
She later became a registered dietician through a dietetics program at California State University, Los Angeles. Joanne McGill, assistant director of business services for UCLA Dining Services and a fellow registered dietician, said before Hernandez was hired the department felt they needed someone full-time to address dietary concerns on the Hill.
“Housing recognizes that we have over 10,000 residents with concerns (and) we want to meet their needs,” she said.
McGill said she feels it is important to make nutritional information and educational resources available to students who are struggling with managing their diet.
“They come from a very controlled environment to an all-you-can-eat environment,” McGill said. “They’re trying to balance everything.”
Though first-year business economics and political science student Douglas Waters said he has not used any of the nutrition services so far, he said he still thinks they are a good resource for students.
“It’s important to stay healthy when college food can be so high in fat,” said Waters, who added that he would use the services if he had questions.
Laura Steindorf, a first-year English student, said she thinks it is beneficial for students to have access to a registered dietician.
“I think it’s good to have an actual human being relaying this information because it’s one thing to go online and another to have a one-on-one relationship,” Steindorf said.
Students with dietary questions can contact Hernandez through her email or phone number listed on the AskDolores website.
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