Alumni Profile: Sarah Ball, MPH
Research specialist with the Michigan Nutrition Obesity Research Center and assistant dietetic internship director with the University of Michigan School of Public Health Dietetic Internship Program
Describe your current position
1. I oversee the Human Phenotyping Core. In this position, I help facilitate clinical and public health research studies through dietary assessment and intervention services. Investigators contract out our professional services so that they are able to add nutrition and physical-activity components into their research without having the knowledge or expertise to do it themselves.
2. I work alongside the dietetic internship director to shape and facilitate our internship program, which graduates 30 master’s degree-prepared interns each year. I’m primarily in charge of the community-based rotations: working to bring new sites on board and facilitate communication between the rotation site and intern.
Both positions require advising, training, administration and networking. I’m also involved in other projects, including a government-mandated, USDA-commissioned project to assess child care nutrition and activity environments across the U.S. and the development and implementation of a yearly course for dietitians on the nutritional management of gastrointestinal disorders called FOOD: The Main Course.
List your career highlights
I’ve been involved in many projects and studies that have allowed me to publish in top nutrition journals. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the media several times on behalf of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Here are three articles for which I served as a source:
“Should I Keep Sprinkling Cinnamon on Everything?” (2017)
“What’s the Deal With Vitamin B12?” (2017)
“How science can help you actually keep your New Year’s resolutions” (2016)
What inspired you to pursue a degree in public health? How did you get started?
I’ve always had a love of medicine and health. From a young age, I knew that what you put in your body had a direct link to how you felt. I took my first college-level nutrition class as a senior in high school and was hooked on the subject. After a couple of twists and turns with my education, I finally landed at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health for my Master of Public Health degree in nutrition. I chose public health because of my desire to educate people on the benefits of good nutrition (and other health behaviors) to prevent diseases and disorders.
Why did you choose the Gillings School?
I knew I wanted to attend a top public health program, and I was attracted to the coordinated model of the Gillings School, which allowed me to obtain my MPH at the same time as I was completing my dietetic internship. In addition, growing up in Ohio and vacationing every summer on the North Carolina coast, I felt my second home was North Carolina and I wanted to move there.
What do you think makes the Gillings School unique?
The Gillings School is unique due to its large and reputable faculty. It is the leader in the fields public health and nutrition. I’m not sure I fully appreciated that during my time at the Gillings School, but I do now. In addition, I found the faculty warm and approachable. I fondly remember many of my professors.
How did your education and degree from the Gillings School influence your career?
It has opened many doors that might not have been opened otherwise. I have moved several times since graduate school and have always been able to fall back on my Gillings School mentors for guidance and connections.
What are some of your favorite memories at the Gillings School?
The Nook. Is it still there? Is it still called that?
What do you miss most about the Gillings School?
The people. I met incredible friends during my time at the University and the Gillings School.
What would you consider your proudest public health accomplishment?
I began my career working on research studies that focused on changing the environments in which preschool-age children live to prevent obesity and promote better health overall. I helped develop, shape and research a program, NAP SACC, that has been embedded in child care communities throughout the country.
What are you passionate about in public health?
I’ve always been passionate about food and its ability to prevent or contribute to diseases and disorders. More recently, I have been passionate about other aspects of public health and how they do the same, including environmental toxicants, sleep and stress. There are so many ways we, as health professionals, can help others achieve optimal health and wellness.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love to read, and I enjoy nature. Most of all, I love to cook! Yes, that might seem obvious as a dietitian, but it isn’t for everyone. I also enjoy educating the public on the safety of their personal care products and how the ingredients in them may shape aspects of their health. I do this as a consultant through my partnership with Beautycounter. In addition, through my pseudonym, The Cleaner Living RD, I’m hoping to help other dietitians learn to speak about environmental toxins with their patients and clients.
What advice you would like to offer to current the Gillings School students?
Stay open to opportunities that present themselves even if they aren’t in line with your projected path. They may lead somewhere different and exciting.
Connect with Sarah!