Dietetics alum fuels young minds

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Portrait of Gia Saporito

Dietetics alum fuels young minds

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Meet Health Hero Gia Saporito, '19

Gia Saporito, RD, ’19 leads the charge in providing healthy meals and tackling childhood hunger.   

Gia graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and dietetics in 2018 and completed Oregon State University’s dietetic internship in 2019.  

Gia serves as the director of nutrition services for Sherwood School District in Washington County. There, she oversees a multi-million-dollar budget and tackles issues of food insecurity and children's health. 

Throughout her career in school nutrition, Gia has influenced public policies and legislation that positively impact Oregon’s child nutrition programs, including lobbying legislators at the Oregon State Capitol and testifying before the state’s Joint Ways and Means Committee.   

What inspired you to pursue dietetics?  

Growing up, I was drawn to wellness-related sciences and activities. My affinity for health and wellness led me to begin exploring various career paths including medicine, physical therapy and even sports business.   

Ultimately, I made the decision to pursue dietetics after completing a job shadow with a registered dietitian (RD) at a small local hospital. Once I realized I wanted to become an RD, my next step was to select an accredited didactic program in dietetics.  

Luckily, Oregon State University offered such a program to which I promptly enrolled. After completing my studies at OSU, I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the OSU dietetic internship 2019 cohort.  

Shortly after the internship began, I was scheduled to complete an experiential learning rotation with the Bethel School District. This is where I fell in love with school nutrition, and I have never looked back.   

Can you tell us about your career progression?  

My career in school nutrition began in 2019 when I was offered the director of nutrition services position at Yamhill-Carlton School District. Several years later, I would find my home with Sherwood School District, also serving as the director of nutrition services.   

My experience with the OSU dietetic internship was instrumental in solidifying my career choice. I applaud the OSU dietetic internship program and faculty for fostering an environment where students can explore diverse career paths and engage in invaluable professional networking.   

What do you enjoy most about your career in dietetics?   

First and foremost, the impact. School nutrition programs are the heart of the nation's efforts to end childhood hunger, a problem that is prevalent and oftentimes invisible in America. Research shows that participation in school meals not only reduces food insecurity but also obesity rates and poor health in children. Our work positively impacts the lives of the children we serve, and that knowledge is incredibly rewarding.   

One piece of my career that I thoroughly enjoy are the dynamic, ever-changing workdays. For example, one day I could be developing student-engagement opportunities like Chef Sherwood, student farmers’ markets or product taste tests. The next day, I might be filming social media content with our partners at local organic farms or leading our district's local wellness committee efforts. In short, no two days are the same in the world of school nutrition. I am truly fulfilled and engaged in this work. I love what I do, and it often does not feel like work.    

Can you tell us about your time at Oregon State in the dietetic internship program?  

My time at Oregon State was an nontraditional whirlwind! As a post-baccalaureate student, I was a part-time student and part-time employee for three different entities.   

I would often begin my days at 6 a.m. at the P. Wayne Valley Sports Performance Center. At the time, I was a student member of the OSU Sports Nutrition Department working with the Athletics Department.   

After spending a few hours with the student-athletes, I would head to my morning nutrition classes before leaving campus to work the lunch shift at a nearby sandwich shop. Around 2 p.m., I would head back to campus for my afternoon classes.   

When I wasn't working the closing shift at the sandwich shop, I worked the closing shift at OSU Disability Access Services proctoring exams for students. Around 9 or 10 p.m., I would return home to study for exams and finish homework before heading to bed and starting over the following morning. In between work and exams, I also had a ton of fun!   

A few of my favorite memories from OSU include meeting my now-husband, Jeff, laughing with my friends on the Sports Nutrition Team, and attending Bard in the Quad, etiquette dinners, theater performances and athletics events. The OSU campus provides endless opportunities for student engagement, and I was so appreciative of all those efforts.  

Is there someone or something who helped you be successful?  

There were many OSU staff members who invested time and energy mentoring me. I would like to specifically acknowledge and thank Mary Cluskey, Michelle Bump and Neilann Horner for guiding me academically and for preparing me to become a competitive applicant for dietetic internships.   

I also thank Christina Weston. She was the director of sport nutrition during my years at OSU and provided me with endless opportunities to grow and build my resume. I am forever grateful for the experiences and for the example that she provided me.  

Were you involved in any organizations or clubs when on campus?   

Aside from my time on the Sports Nutrition Team, I was honored to be nominated by my peers to serve as the public relations officer for the OSU Nutrition and Dietetics Club (NDC). As an officer for the NDC, our responsibility was to organize monthly educational networking opportunities for students within the nutrition major. In addition, we were tasked with developing and executing National Nutrition Month activities throughout campus and the community during March.