Faculty & Staff
Dr. Melissa Pflugh Prescott is currently Assistant Professor of School/Childhood Foods and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She completed her BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida, her MS in Clinical Nutrition and PhD in Public Health at New York University, and a postdoctoral fellowship at Colorado State University. Dr. Prescott is a registered dietitian nutritionist. Her past experiences include managing a school-based obesity prevention program across seven elementary schools located in Harlem and Washington Heights, NYC and working as a pediatric clinical dietitian. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, traveling, and watching Gator football and basketball.
Dr. Jessica Jarick Metcalfe is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and History from Franklin and Marshall College. She completed her master’s in Public Health and PhD in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jessie’s research focuses on mixed methods evaluation of public health interventions. In her free time, Jessie enjoys hiking, camping, and snowboarding.
Dr. Roland Ofori is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. He is currently working with scholars in the lab to develop agent-based computational models to identify practical ways to reduce food waste in the National School Lunch Program. He holds a PhD in Environmental & Energy Policy (Michigan Tech.), an MS in Agricultural, Food & Resource Economics (Michigan State), and a B.A. in Economics (Ghana). Previously, he worked as an Assistant Economist in Ghana’s public sector for 5 years. Outside work, he enjoys family time and traveling.
Amirah Burton-Obanla is currently a doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. Prior to attending UIUC, Amirah earner her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in biology from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, NC. Amirah’s current dissertation research involves understanding the nutritional challenges of food insecure cancer survivors in the United States. Her professional interests include health disparities, policy, food security, sustainable food systems, chronic disease prevention, and nutrition. During her free time, Amirah enjoys singing, traveling, and spending quality time with her family.
Ana Mitchell is a PhD student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Ana joined Teach for America in Denver teaching high school science. Ana’s time in the classroom inspired her to pursue a degree in nutrition so she could learn evidenced-based practices to better serve communities on a larger scale. Her current research interest includes the implementation and evaluation of nutrition related programs for diverse audiences. Additional interests include policy, sustainable food systems, science communication, and implementation science. Beyond grad school, Ana enjoys cooking, traveling, being active, and listening to podcasts.
Mayra Sáenz is a Ph.D. student in Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign with areas specializing in International Policy, Development Economics, and Family and Consumer Economics. She holds a minor in Gender Relations in International Development (GRID). Her current research focuses on food security and coping strategies to overcome weather shocks. She is currently assisting with data management tasks to develop an agent-based model to reduce food waste in the school lunch program. Before joining the Ph.D. program, Mayra received a Master’s degree in Development Economics at FLACSO in Ecuador. She also worked in the Social Sector of the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC, and is currently a consultant at the World Bank Research Department. In her free time, Mayra enjoys cooking, traveling, and spending time with her family
Gwen Balto is from Chicago, Illinois and graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree with a dietetics concentration and is currently a MS student in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department. Professionally, she has had a variety of experiences in nutrition research labs developing and refining wet and dry lab skills. Currently, she is looking to complete a dietetic internship upon earning a master’s degree. When she is not preparing for her academic career, she enjoys being around her friends and family members as well as participating in outdoor activities such as bike riding, walks, frisbee and volleyball.
Danielle Davis earned her B.S. in Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Danielle is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition with a concentration in Human Nutrition and current enrollment in the DPD program. After completing a dietetic internship, she aspires to become a Registered Dietitian. Danielle is currently working on the Nourish Project. Her professional interests include food education and sports nutrition. Danielle is a member of UIUC’s softball team during her time not devoted to academic pursuits. She participates in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is a member of The Big Ten’s Equality Coalition, and is an E board member for EMPOWER. She enjoys attending church functions, volunteer activities, and spending leisure time with friends and family in her free time.
Paola Gordillo received her bachelor’s of science degree from UIUC with a concentration in Human Nutrition. She is working on her Master of Science degree in the Food Science & Human Nutrition department. Her research focuses on how to improve cooking and promote food resource management skills in SNAP-ed communities. Her professional interests are food insecurity, community nutrition, nutrition education, and a specialization in eating disorders. She is currently in her dietetic internship to become a registered dietitian. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, spending time with friends, listening to music, and finding a new vegetarian recipe!
Colin Marsh is from Chicago, Illinois and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Nutrition with a concentration in Dietetics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). His professional interests include food insecurity and pediatric nutrition. He is currently a dietetic intern at UIUC, and plans to work on his Master of Science degree. Eventually, he wants to become a pediatric dietitian and start his own private practice. When he’s not preparing for his academic career, he enjoys spending time with friends and family, reading, drawing, and being outdoors.
Kharina Román earned her B.S. in Biomedical Sciences from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. She is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Aligned with her studies, she is also completing the requirements for the DPD Program to become a Registered Dietitian. Her professional interests include nutrition education, nutrition counseling, food and financial management, sports nutrition, and culinary arts. Kharina is passionate about food, fitness, cooking, listening to podcasts, traveling, and learning and meeting with people all around the world. When she is not busy, you can find her at the kitchen trying new recipes, working out, exploring new places, and eating ice cream.
Emily Siebert earned her B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition with a concentration in Dietetics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences at UIUC. Her research focuses on spicy food preference throughout the life course with a long-term goal to influence school lunch programs to incorporate more spicy flavors into school lunch vegetable recipes so both children and adolescents will find eating vegetables more enjoyable. Her professional interests are nutrition education, nutrition counseling, intuitive eating, sustainability, and culinary arts. In her free-time she enjoys live music, exploring Pinterest for a new recipe or craft, drinking coffee or tea, and spending time with her friends and family.
Brooke Covas is an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois pursuing a bachelor’s science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition with a concentration in Dietetics. After graduating she hopes to become a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorders. Her professional interests include sports nutrition and eating disorder research. In her free time, Brooke enjoys weightlifting, running long distance, spending time with her 4 younger siblings, and listening to music.
Vama Naik is a student in Dietetics at UIUC. Her professional interests include eating disorder recovery, solving food insecurity, and advocating for minority populations being served within the healthcare field. After graduating she hopes to become a registered dietitian and run a private practice business. In her free time, she loves to sing, read/write poetry, and explore cafes around campus.
Katie O’Hara is a Senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition with a concentration in Dietetics, and a minor in leadership studies. As an undergraduate student, Katie has been involved in several research projects which have allowed her to explore nutrition in a variety of contexts including food service, community nutrition, and clinical nutrition. Katie looks forward to becoming a dietitian, and making an impact by showing others that each of us can eat nutritious foods despite the unique barriers that we each may face. In her free time, she enjoys working out, being outside, cooking and baking, and spending time with family and friends!
Maya Rahman is a Food Science and Human Nutrition major with a concentration in human nutrition. She is studying for a minor in kinesiology with a specialty in biomechanics. She currently works with Sifter on various research projects and in the UIUC professional kitchens learning culinary skills. By working in the culinary kitchen, she has gained an understanding of preparing a variety of foods for different people. In her free time, she likes playing video games and spending time with people.
Past Lab Members
- Jessica Kassuelke MS
- Caterina Kim
- Micah Lee
- Sri Medakkar
- Nan Ni
- Shelly Palmer MS, RD, LD
- Donald Quach
- Claire Ryan
- Patrick Slojkowski
- Yiyang Liu MS, RD
Research & Outreach Collaborators