Body and mind: Pursuit of heath leads to nutrition education

Twins Breanna and Bailee Chavez, first-generation college students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in nutrition through the Department of Nutrition in Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, have been interested in health and wellness since sixth grade.

Breanna and Bailee Chavez with Karen Beathard, Ph.D., standing in front of Student Research Week banner
Breanna and Bailee Chavez with Karen Beathard, Ph.D., who oversees the RD Mentorship Program. (Texas a&M AgriLife photo)

“We’re both perfectionists and are serious about taking care of our bodies,” said Bailee. “But my real interest in proper nutrition started after I developed an eating disorder in seventh grade. That led me to being more passionate about nutrition. It also led me to adding a psychology minor.”

Bailee said she sees nutrition as a “holistic” endeavor involving both body and mind.

“It took both my mind and body to overcome my eating disorder, so with a major in nutrition and minor in psychology, I feel I will be able to help others with both the physical and mental aspects of developing better nutritional habits and health,” she said.

Breanna, who attributed her early interest in nutrition in large part to an inspiring health teacher at her small school in Big Sandy, said she too had to overcome many of the same nutrition-related challenges as her sister.

“We’re very close, and Bailee’s struggles were my struggles,” she said. “But it was very helpful that we had each other and could work together to address and overcome our struggles so both of us could develop a healthier relationship with food.”

Academic activities

During high school, the twins became involved in FFA and interested in agriscience, seeing the organization’s Agriscience Fair as an opportunity to help promote nutrition among both youth and adults. They also excelled academically. Breanna was the valedictorian at Harmony High School, and Bailee was the school’s salutatorian.

Now juniors at Texas A&M, the Chavez twins plan to pursue a combined master’s degree/dietetic internship program and become registered dietitians. Ultimately, they hope to open a personalized private nutrition practice where they can work together to help others in their journey to better nutrition and overall health.  

“Here at Texas A&M, both Breanna and Bailee are very ambitious and committed to their work and to the field of nutrition,” said instructional associate professor, Karen Beathard, Ph.D., registered dietitian in the Department of Nutrition.

Beathard said the twins are eager to excel and participate in high-impact educational experiences and activities to promote professional skills and development. For example, both serve as undergraduate researchers in the RD Mentorship Program, a national program that matches registered dietitians with dietetic students in a mentor-mentee relationship.

“Both Bailee and Breanna are very detailed and accurate in their data collection and are both effective team members,” she said.

The focus of the RD Mentorship Program is to facilitate a professional experiential learning opportunity for nutrition students by helping on a project as they pursue their goal of becoming registered dietitians.

Through this program, Bailee and Breanna collaborate on nutrition research with Beathard and Kristen Hicks-Roof, Ph.D., a registered dietitian at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville.

“As a student researcher in the RD Mentorship Program, I coordinate with my fellow student researchers to effectively market and run the mentorship program,” Breanna said. “Specifically, I assist with recruitment, social media management, professional development sessions, research writing and presenting research.”

Bailee said the program has been a life-changing experience for her.

“This program has helped me refine my writing, marketing, program-planning and time-management skills,” she said. “It has taught me how to work collaboratively as part of a team. I admire the poise, professionalism and dedication of Drs. Beathard and Hicks-Roof to the world of research in dietetics and mentorship.”

Recently, Bailee and Breanna placed first in the poster division for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with their poster “The Benefits of RD Mentorship Program for Mentees Participating in the Dietetic Internship Match” at Texas A&M’s Student Research Week.

Programs prepare students for careers

Bailee and Breanna also participate in Texas A&M’s Didactic Program in Dietetics, which is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, ACEND. The program prepares students for continuing their education with the goal of becoming registered dietitians.

“While an education in dietetics provides opportunities to help diverse communities improve their health and wellness, the ACEND program’s strong science foundation also prepares students to be effective interdisciplinary communicators,” said Beathard, who serves as director for the ACEND program at Texas A&M.

Beathard said the program also provides a foundation for success in a dietetic internship to become a registered dietitian and/or graduate programs in areas such as nutrition or food science, public health, exercise physiology or any other area of life science.

“I have no doubt that the courses I am taking will adequately prepare me for my future career as a professional in dietetics,” Breanna said. “The Texas A&M dietetics program prepares students for their future career by developing their knowledge of nutrition through a science and research-based curriculum. It also helps students develop their collaboration, communication and professional skills.” 

Bailee said the coursework required as a part of the program is rigorous and dense, but also enjoyable.

“I am 100% confident that my time at Texas A&M is preparing me to be successful post-graduation,” she said. “From my experience, a successful nutrition student must be driven, detail-oriented, efficient and able to manage competing deadlines, and this program helps in all those aspects.”

Other nutrition-related activities

Breanna is also involved in the Department of Nutrition Honors Program, where she attends weekly sessions. Additionally, she serves as a Department of Nutrition Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador, secretary of the Texas Student Dietetic Association and is a member of the TAMU Nutrition and Dietetics Association, NDA.

The Chavez twins standing in front of their RD Mentorship research poster
Breanna and Bailee Chavez presented the poster that placed first at Texas A&M’s Student Research Week at the Diversity in Science Research Symposium. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Bailee is also a member of the Department of Nutrition Diversity and Inclusion Committee. In addition, she worked as a research assistant in the Aggie Research Program where she was a student researcher for a doctoral student. She is also president-elect for the Texas Student Dietetics Association and a member of the NDA.   

In addition to Student Research Week, the twins have presented their research at the Diversity in Science Research Symposium, which was organized by The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.

Over Christmas break, Bailee and Breanna returned to their hometown, where they gave nutrition presentations to elementary and intermediate school students. They also volunteer at UT Health Tyler and run a shared Instagram account, which serves as a digital scrapbook of their activities.

Scholarships provide opportunities   

Both Breanna and Bailee cite financial assistance through scholarships as the primary reason they were able to attend Texas A&M to pursue their academic and career dreams.   

“We’re first-generation college students from a small town and going to college wasn’t a top priority in our family or community,” Breanna said. “So, getting financial support through scholarships was very important to our being able to go to a top university like Texas A&M.”  

 Breanna was awarded a full scholarship by the Terry Foundation.

“I had my eye on a Terry Foundation scholarship since I first heard about it in the eighth grade,” she said. “And through the support of my teachers and a lot of hard work, I was able to get it. It was also an interesting experience because, during my first year at Texas A&M, all the Terry Foundation scholars lived together at Hobby Hall.”

While Bailee didn’t receive a full scholarship, through FFA she earned a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo scholarship and other scholarships. Both she and her sister also earned scholarships from the Hagan Scholarship Foundation.

“The opportunity to go to Texas A&M allowed us to be trailblazers for the family and community and to continue to motivate others through a positive example,” Brianna said.

The sisters have also received nutrition scholarships from the department.

“The Department of Nutrition offers scholarships annually to undergraduate students to help make higher education more affordable and accessible,” Beathard said. “We award scholarships annually to undergraduate students as well as support graduate students through assistantships and fellowships, travel and research grants.”

Beathard said the skill sets and passion Bailee and Breanna bring to the field of nutrition will enable them to make a significant contribution.

“I am confident they will be leaders in the dietetic profession and make a positive impact — whatever they choose do after graduation,” she said.   

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