How one nutrition and food student is forging a career in community development.
Fourth-year nutrition and food student Aseel Masri describes the time she heard an infant’s heartbeat at the Amrita Hospital in Kochi, India as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I had the opportunity to shadow an obstetrician, who let me feel the stomach of a pregnant woman to feel the fetus and I also got to hear the fetus’s heartbeat,” she says. “It’s not something I would have the opportunity to do in Canada, most likely. It was a beautiful moment.” The 2017 trip was part of an experiential learning initiative and joint partnership between Ryerson’s Faculty of Community Services and Amrita University Live-in-Labs program in order to help students understand the role of social innovation and equity in developing countries.
While thinking about career paths back in high school, Aseel had come up with a list of professions that served the community including: doctor, nurse, police officer and firefighter. Though she felt inspired by the meaningful work in those careers, Aseel gravitated towards a profession where she could combine her love for nutrition, passion for helping others and fascination with the mechanics of the human body – all in one – and landed at Ryerson. “I wanted to go into work everyday and know I was making a difference. I wanted to match my desire to help people with my skill set and what I wanted out of life,” she explains.
For more than 60 years, Ryerson’s School of Nutrition has promoted healthy eating habits and well-being in Canada. In 2005, to place a greater focus on health, the school renamed its undergraduate program to the Bachelor of Applied Science in Nutrition and Food, expanding on the relation between nutrition and human disease. The specialized program includes interdisciplinary studies as well as hands-on learning through resources such as the Nutrition Discovery Labs. “It’s a very broad program, which I liked. Coming in to university I had only one idea of what the field is and then I came into nutrition and realized there are so many different sectors,” says Aseel. “The four main sectors are food service, which is preparing foods, you can do that in a hospital setting. There’s clinical – helping people with diabetes or cardiovascular disease -public or community health, and research.” The program is also one of the few in Ontario accredited by the Partnership for Dietetic Education and Practice (PDEP), the first step towards becoming a registered dietician.
During her time in India, Aseel also worked on a research-based project in the city of Ratanpur alongside domestic doctors and professors to assess dietary intakes and the nutritional health of infants. “We worked with women asking them what they fed their babies and what type of nutrition they were getting. Because the rural village we worked with didn’t speak English, we had to have two translators. So it was an interesting experience to have your words translated, and seeing how the translation may change through the language,” she recalls.
Thanks to her classes, food security has become an area of particular interest to Aseel. “It’s very much about social justice. I believe everyone should have the right to a decent standard of living, which includes having access to food. So I wanted to learn more about it and specialize in it.” In collaboration with the School of Nutrition and the Centre for Food Studies in Food Security, a platform designed to promote food security and focus on the surrounding socioeconomic issues, the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education offers a food security certificate. The certificate touches on topics of food policy and community development, while addressing the challenges of sustainable food systems.
On the flip side of academics, the nutrition and food program entails a love for food, which Aseel happily shares. “I believe food is one of life’s greatest pleasures!” she describes. With a variety of options available in Toronto, Aseel says her top picks for places to eat are Salad King and Ali Baba, both offering student discounts. She’s also a fan of the choices available at Ryerson through RU Eats, and the convenience of not having to leave campus.
For Aseel, the opportunities available outside of the standard classroom learning have opened unexpected doors. Building on her experience of working with international communities, Aseel is now looking to explore multiple pathways abroad -or domestically as a dietician- and offer a helping hand.