Christine Updegraff began her career in the technology industry. After twenty years in the business, most recently as an account manager, she is working to transfer her customer relationship skills and penchant for technical details to the emerging field of personalized nutrition.
“I’m looking to bring my skills together on the cutting-edge of all the research coming out now on the human genome and the different genetic variations that we find for medical conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS),” says Updegraff.
Updegraff enrolled in the Master of Science in Personalized Nutrition (MSPN) program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources to do more to help women with PCOS. She spent several years working for a nonprofit focused on supporting people with this lifelong health condition. PCOS is a hormonal disorder in which the ovaries produce high levels of androgens in the body, leading to a variety of symptoms and medical risks, including the development of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular issues. It is also one of the leading causes of female infertility. According to the CDC, PCOS affects about 5 million US women of reproductive age.
“As a nutritional professional, I look forward to helping patients by recognizing what their genetic makeup means, learning what their symptoms and underlying biomarkers are, and what their goals are because different patients have different goals relative to their condition. In the end, the patient should be in the driver’s seat of their own healthcare with their team supporting them. The nutritional professional is an important part of that team,” says Updegraff.
The MSPN program offers a professional online graduate degree through the Department of Nutritional Sciences. The program prepares students to assess the unique nutritional needs of individuals to develop personalized diet recommendations for clients to improve health and to prevent and manage chronic disease.
By studying how genes and nutrients interact, Updegraff aims to help clients with PCOS and other medical conditions make more informed health decisions beyond general nutritional recommendations to manage illness.
“I’ve always had an interest in nutrition. I studied the natural sciences as part of my bachelor’s program many years ago. I always wanted to revisit that field and expand upon my knowledge of nutrition. This UConn program came along at the right time and was exactly what I was looking for,” says Updegraff.
Launched in fall 2021, the MSPN program prepares students to become personalized nutrition professionals in a clinical setting, including certified nutrition specialists (CNS) and registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN). Graduates can also find employment beyond the healthcare industry in academia and business in the food and agricultural industries.
The asynchronous course design of the MSPN program creates flexibility for busy students to learn from award-winning UConn faculty. The reputation of UConn as a world-class research university and the ability to adapt coursework to fit a variety of students and accommodate part-time study is what drew Updegraff to the UConn program.
“I’m a non-traditional student and the MSPN program is flexible and it lets me balance work, life, and academics with the coursework being at your own pace,” says Updegraff. “It’s an exciting program. There’s so much research coming out on genetics, environment, food, activity, and lifestyle. There’s always something new to learn.”
This work relates to CAHNR’s Strategic Vision area focused on Enhancing Health and Well-Being Locally, Nationally, and Globally.
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