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The Bread and Butter of Hamilton and Beyond

Beatrice Blackwell '17
Beatrice Blackwell '17

Attracted to Hamilton’s open curriculum and having little idea as to what I wanted to study, I imagine I was in the same boat as many incoming freshmen. I enrolled in math, English, psychology, and chemistry classes and frustratingly enjoyed them all (ok, for math, maybe not so much). It did not take long, however, until everything started to fall into place. Second semester of freshman year, I stumbled upon my first neuroscience course and was exposed to the field of nutritional neuroscience. I was hooked.

I grew up playing competitive sports and was recruited to Hamilton to play soccer. Since early childhood, health and nutrition have not only been important to me as an athlete, but have been of great interest to me in general. But it was a single neuroscience assignment that made me realize that my lifelong interest in food and nutrition could mesh seamlessly into my academic work. This open curriculum thing really works!

I began integrating my passion into as many classes as I could. For example, in Cognitive Neuroscience, I wrote a mock National Science Foundation proposal on interoception and neural activity in obese and lean children. While in Cellular Neurobiology, I composed a grant on melanocortin 4 receptor mutations and predisposition to obesity. In my Food Culture and Politics class, my final project involved the effect of one’s emotional state on taste perception.

My slight obsession with all things food and nutrition did not stop there. I spent the spring semester of my junior year abroad in Copenhagen, where I was selected to live in the culinary dorm surrounded by other students who loved food almost as much as me. In addition to cooking all the time, I was also able to take food-centered classes and learn about various food initiatives throughout the city and Scandinavia. Returning to Hamilton, for my Senior Thesis I designed and carried out an experiment on the effects of yo-yo dieting on immunocompetence in mice under the mentorship of Professor Downs in the Biology department.

Not only did I find a way to integrate food and nutrition into my academics, I also applied it to a few summer internships. I worked at Blue Buffalo Co. (a gourmet pet food company) in the quality and research and development departments. Last summer, I worked as a research and development intern where I conducted research and product development initiatives with the aim of cleaning-up nutrition labels and reducing manufacturing costs for Bimbo Bakeries USA (I’m sure everyone has devoured a Thomas English Muffin or a slice or two of Arnold’s Bread). I also evaluated innovative market trends by attending trade shows as well as meeting with suppliers.

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A natural next step for me was to enroll in a nutrition graduate program. I am currently pursuing my Master of Science in Nutritional and Metabolic Biology at Columbia University and have been exposed to the intersection of nutrition in the worlds of basic science, clinical research, public health, and everything in-between. I am also gaining valuable experience in wellness programming while working at Columbia University’s Office of Work/Life, which handles nutrition and wellness initiatives for Columbia’s faculty and staff. I have also enjoyed working part-time as an editorial assistant for the NYC Food Policy Center, as it has allowed me to keep up on present food issues as well as continue to write.

Here is the plot twist.

I find myself back in the boat of uncertainty in terms of my future career. But that is ok. Because similar to when I was my freshman-self, the world is my oyster. Hamilton provided me the tools to be confident and capable in whatever job I choose, and its open curriculum is one of the many reasons I was able to enthusiastically follow my love for food and nutrition. I know that I am going to end up in a field that I am passionate about and whatever that position may be, I am confident my liberal arts education will serve me well. Whether I have a career in research, policy, healthcare, or at a corporate food company, my experiences at Hamilton will always be my bread and butter. Everything else then becomes a piece of cake.

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