STEADY DIET

An appetite for learning guides a nutrition professor in her work to improve food security in Dominica and beyond

By TERESA KILLIAN TATE

The twists and turns that led Beth Wall-Bassett ’00 to become a registered dietitian and professor committed to improving food security for others can be traced to her love of learning. When Wall-Bassett came to Western Carolina as a student, she wanted to major in biology with an emphasis in horticulture, because she always had been interested in plants. She took things a step further after taking an economics course taught by Robert Mulligan. Inspired, she decided the two disciplines would complement each other for working in service-based fields. “My father always emphasized an understanding of business principles would be important for any career,” she said. “He was right.”

Wall-Bassett continued her path of studying food from “field to table” and melding business practices by pursuing a master’s degree in plant and environmental science and directing marketing programs for the sustainable agriculture program at Clemson University. While organizing a community-supported agriculture program, she met a professor in the nutrition department who shared an interest in innovative sustainable agriculture and international food systems. Continuing to work with the professor, Wall-Bassett began doctoral research in the English-speaking Caribbean island of the Commonwealth of Dominica, home to about 70,000 people.

“The people and the island are truly beautiful, and the diets are comparatively wholesome, but there was a need for baseline nutrition information that I thought I could help with since they are extremely limited in their nutrition expertise,” said Wall-Bassett. For more than six years, she has helped develop programs and initiatives that promote sound nutrition and food security. She first conducted assessments to find out what barriers keep families from getting food and learning how food, when available, is prepared. Wall-Bassett has worked in collaboration with a range of Dominican community partners on initiatives ranging from developing balanced school feeding programs to training programs for health workers on basic nutrition principles, and food safety and sanitation. She also helped establish a steering committee and advisory board to brainstorm ideas and solutions to health-related issues affecting the people of Dominica.

Beth Wall-Bassett ’00 and two of her students
are working in partnership with the Pitt County Council on
Aging on a countywide geriatric nutrition assessment.
Photo by Cliff Hollis of ECU News and Communications

“I enjoy trying to bring people together who are interested in benefiting the health and well-being of people everywhere,” said Wall-Bassett, now a registered dietician, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at East Carolina University and adjunct professor in the ECU School of Medicine. She resides in Greenville with her husband, Joseph Bassett ’99, and their son. She travels to Dominica several times a year, and students joined her on her last trip, making the experience particularly meaningful, she said.

Mulligan said he is not surprised that Wall-Bassett, who would patiently answer question after question from fellow students after presentations, has become an educator. “If she found a subject challenging, she made an extra effort to master it,” he said.  Sean O’Connell, head of WCU’s biology department, said he and fellow faculty are proud and applaud her efforts in helping improve nutrition and food safety of people in the United States and abroad and her work in enhancing sustainable agriculture.