UTHealth School of Public Health unveils new facilities designed to teach “seed-to-table” nutrition

Ribbon cutting photo of TX Sens. Whitmire and Huffman, and Don Sanders and Laura Moore
Left to right: Texas Sen. John Whitmire, Texas Sen. Joan Huffman, Don Sanders and Laura Moore

HOUSTON – The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health celebrated the opening of new state-of-the-art nutrition education facilities at its Houston campus in the Texas Medical Center on Thursday, November 17.

The new facilities are part of the UTHealth School of Public Health Dietetic Internship program and have been under construction for nearly two years. They include a holistic garden, a research and demonstration kitchen, and a simulation lab that, when combined, allow for a true “seed-to-table” and clinical health care educational experience that is unlike any other in the country.

“Our school is positioned to be the public health nutrition academic and research hub of Texas,” says Eric Boerwinkle, Ph.D., dean of UTHealth School of Public Health. “These new facilities will allow us to understand how to improve the nutritional health of the people of Texas, and will help prevent future generations from developing cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity by educating the future workforce as well as people in the community.”

The holistic garden is adjacent to the School of Public Health building in Houston and is overseen by dietetic internship program faculty and a social horticulturalist. The garden is open to all visitors to the Texas Medical Center who might want to simply enjoy the greenery or get their hands dirty with a course in the school’s “Garden Lecture Series.”

Dietetic Internship Program students
In the garden: some of the Dietetic Internship Program students at UTHealth School of Public Health

The research and demonstration kitchen is another resource available to the larger community, and allows faculty to teach healthy cooking techniques, often using produce picked from the garden outside! The kitchen is fully functional—meaning many, if not most, lessons end with taste tests—and includes training tools such as overhead cameras, which allow participants to see the preparation practices up-close without having to crowd around a countertop.

In the simulation classroom, students are able to learn and practice clinical nutrition skills with a lifelike advanced patient simulator, affectionately named “Mr. Sims.” Instructors are able to control Mr. Sims to replicate a range of symptoms for a variety of medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The ability to practice hands-on patient skills helps students gain confidence in their overall knowledge and training.

“These resources will enable us to extend the mission of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living by amplifying our ability to engage in state-of-the-art research, teaching, and dissemination efforts in nutritional sciences,” says Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., C.N.S., director of the Center for Healthy Living. “Obesity and other nutrition-related chronic diseases are significant public health problems, which require innovative solutions and trained health professionals — these resources will further enhance the ability of UTHealth School of Public Health to be the national leader in this field.”

The open house on November 17 included recognition of the benefactors whose generous donation made the new facilities possible, Don Sanders and Laura Moore, M.Ed, R.D., L.D.

View photos of the event here