Laura Moore, M.Ed., R.D., L.D., and her husband Don Sanders have donated $1 million to support a first-of-its-kind nutrition education program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). UTHealth fully matched the gift as part of the university's Game Changers Initiative.
"We are so appreciative of this generous gift from Laura Moore and Don Sanders. Through the Game Changers Initiative, we are able to double their remarkable investment in our students and the future of health care," said Giuseppe Colasurdo, M.D., UTHealth president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair.
The announcement was made during a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil new facilities for the Dietetic Internship Program, which is housed within the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth School of Public Health. Moore serves as co-director of the nutrition education program with Jeanne Piga-Plunkett, M.S., R.D., L.D. The internship program is one of only nine Master of Public Health-Registered Dietitian (M.P.H.-R.D.) programs in the United States.
The facilities include a holistic garden, research and demonstration kitchen and a simulation lab to train students using a "seed-to-table" model and to provide a unique clinical health care experience.
"With rising rates of cardiovascular diseases such as cancer, diabetes and obesity among Texans, prevention has never been more important to public health. This gift and this program will help train our students to better understand and improve the health of Texans and allow our school to become the nutrition academic and research hub of Texas," said Eric Boerwinkle, Ph.D., Kozmetsky Family Chair in Human Genetics and dean of UTHealth School of Public Health. "Endowment of the program guarantees future generations of students and nutrition researchers access to state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure."
The holistic garden is adjacent to the School of Public Health building in Houston and is overseen by Dietetic Internship Program faculty and a social horticulturalist. The garden is open to all visitors of the Texas Medical Center (TMC) who might want to enjoy the scenery or participate in a gardening course.
The research and demonstration kitchen is another resource available to the larger community and allows faculty and students to teach healthy cooking techniques through classes and "lunch and learns," often using produce picked from the holistic garden. The high-tech kitchen includes training tools such as overhead cameras, which allow participants to see the preparation practices up close.
In the simulation lab, students are able to learn and practice clinical nutrition skills with a lifelike advanced patient simulator named "Mr. Sims." Instructors control the simulator to replicate a range of symptoms for a variety of medical conditions such as malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The ability to practice hands-on patient skills can help students gain confidence in their overall knowledge and training.
"Our new facilities and train-the trainer programs will allow our faculty to translate research into practice and engage our students with our community-based programs," said Moore. "Our focus is prevention - teaching our students and the community how to grow, cook and eat foods in healthy ways leads to better health."
Moore began her tenure as director of the Dietetic Internship Program in 2012 and immediately began envisioning a place where students across UTHealth and the TMC could practice skills in dietetics and where patients, staff and other members of the TMC could learn about proper nutrition.
Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony announcement, Moore and Sanders had supported the program with more than $790,000 for student scholarships and construction of the program facilities.
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston