Texas Tech University

International Collaboration Offers Greater Opportunities for Research, Outreach

Glenys Young

July 13, 2021

The Nutrition BEST program will position students for future leadership in food, nutrition and agricultural sectors.

Texas Tech University has taken yet another step toward becoming a hub for nutrition education.

With a new five-year, $500,000 grant, the Obesity Research Institute will lead a transdisciplinary, international collaboration to train undergraduates in basic nutrition, community nutrition, obesity research and prevention, data and literature analyses, and applications of modeling and machine-learning tools.

The grant comes from the Research and Extension Experiential Learning for Undergraduate Fellowships (REEU) program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The REEU program is focused on promoting experiential learning in research and extension for undergraduates so that, upon graduation, they may pursue advanced graduate education in foods, nutrition and/or agriculture or enter the agriculture workforce with exceptional skills.

The Nutrition Bench-to-Community Engaged Scholars in Texas (Nutrition BEST) collaboration brings together researchers and administrators from across Texas Tech with educators, mentors and program evaluators from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the University of Tennessee Extension and Hamad Bin Khalifa University's Qatar Computing Research Institute. Students will have opportunities to volunteer and learn from organizations such as the South Plains Food Bank, South Plains Hunger Solutions and the Texas Hunger Initiative, all of which provided letters of support for the REEU application. Students will be recruited from Texas Tech and South Plains College, with a special emphasis on women and students from underrepresented groups.

“Our Nutrition BEST program is connecting undergraduates to research and Extension experiences and equipping them with leadership skills in order to become future leaders in food-, nutrition- and agricultural-related degrees and careers,” said Naïma Moustaïd-Moussa, a Horn Distinguished Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, director of the Obesity Research Institute and principal investigator on the grant.

Each year, undergraduate students from Texas Tech and South Plains College will work with mentors in research and Extension work to get hands-on experience in their potential career path. The integrated student experience will blend research training at Texas Tech with summer internships with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. The program intends to enroll and train 15-30 undergraduates over the five years of funding, with the first cohort to start in 2022.

Extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to people throughout the country. It emphasizes taking knowledge gained through research and education and bringing it directly to the people to create positive changes.

“Students will receive tailored mentorship to enhance retention and success, professional development and research ethics, and knowledge about graduate school and career options,” Moustaïd-Moussa said. “At the same time, they will engage in seminars featuring experts and organizations from diverse backgrounds and training in the REEU-targeted areas of foods, nutrition and agriculture.”

Texas Tech collaborators include:

Levi Johnson, director of the Center for Transformative Undergraduate Learning Experiences (TrUE), will help integrate the Nutrition BEST scholars into Texas Tech's Undergraduate Research Conference.

“Texas Tech University is very proud of the accomplishments of Professor Moustaïd-Moussa and the entire team working on the Nutrition BEST award,” said Joseph A. Heppert, vice president for research and innovation. “This is an exciting program that will provide unique resources for Texas Tech students studying nutrition and agricultural programs. This project will almost certainly have a long-term benefit for the West Texas region, where food insecurity and difficulty accessing highly nutritional food is a growing problem in too many communities. Dr. Moustaïd-Moussa is one of Texas Tech's most productive scientists, and this project is another wonderful outcome of her hard work and creativity.”

External collaborators include: 

  • Mandi Seaton, family and community health/4-H youth development, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension;
  • program evaluator Karen Franck, family and consumer sciences, University of Tennessee Extension; and
  • mentor Halima Bensmail, Qatar Computing Research Institute/Hamad Bin Khalifa University