In an office with an entrance hidden down a hill on the back side of the Caf, the College of William and Mary’s campus dietitian Julie Nance plans food options for the dining halls and works with students to develop meal plans that fit their individual dietary needs.
Nance is a registered dietitian, but she wasn’t always interested in nutrition. In fact, she graduated with a degree in public relations from Georgia Southern University in 1989.
Nance worked in public relations for 10 years before turning to dietetics after a diagnosis sparked her interest.
“Literally right after I graduated, I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and I met with a dietitian who was also a certified diabetes educator. I was in the hospital, in the ICU, for five days and during the time I was meeting with her I said, ‘I want to be what you are!’” Nance said. “So 10 years later, my college experience to become a dietitian started all over again and now I have a degree in dietetics.”
While the career shift was far from instant, Nance said that her diabetes diagnosis played a major role in her decision to study dietetics.
“It took me 10 years to get to that point,” Nance said. “It was 10 years after I was diagnosed that I actually decided to walk away from my job as a marketing director and walk away from the field of marketing and PR to start all over again. I just wasn’t happy anymore.”
After leaving PR, Nance went back to school at Kansas State University and earned her second B.S. in 2004, this time in dietetics.
To go from earning a degree in dietetics to becoming a registered dietitian, Nance had to do a dietetics internship and sit for a four-hour exam, which she completed in 2005.
“It’s a lot of work to become a registered dietitian,” Nance said. “It’s a four-year degree and a lot of chemistry.”
After receiving this certification, Nance moved around the world for more than 20 years with her husband, who was then an active-duty soldier in the Army.
She worked with a diverse range of communities during that time, including active-duty soldiers and pediatric patients, and now works with Dining Services and Campus Recreation as the College’s campus dietitian.
Using skills she acquired while working toward her 2012 master’s degree in nutrition education from Northeastern University, Nance works to help students incorporate healthy choices into their diets.
In her work, she particularly emphasizes the importance of learning about these healthy choices from reputable sources.
“There’s a lot of information out there on the internet, but you have to go to those reputable sources to make sure you’re getting the right information. Many times, a specific diet can be very unhealthy for somebody if it’s not followed appropriately,” Nance said. “You want to make sure you’re making the right choices to meet your needs in that diet.”
Nance works with students all across campus to help them make these healthy choices.
She helps students who have food allergies navigate the dining halls, assists athletes in building diets that maximize their ability in their sport, and helps ensure that Simple Servings employees are trained in eliminating allergens from the station’s offerings.
She also works with students who have questions about information they’ve heard about nutrition and health.
Nance helps the dining halls implement the College’s Mindful program, which features healthier food options.
According to her, 60 percent of the dining halls’ offerings are Mindful food choices.
Nance encourages students to think about the foods they eat and said that she has reaped the rewards of making healthier choices in her own life.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and I was told that because I was so healthy, I probably wouldn’t have made it through as well as I did,” Nance said.
According to Nance, her focus wasn’t always on her health and that is a primary difference between her college experience as a student and her experience as the College’s dietitian.
“My initial college experience was not a great one as far as food goes,” Nance said. “I didn’t make a lot of healthy choices, ate sporadically, but once I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes I realized the importance of nutrition, and then everything changed.”
She said that she is impressed with how much students at the College come in already knowing about practicing good nutrition and making healthy choices in their diets.
According to Nance, her role is to continue educating students on health and nutrition and to be available to answer students’ questions via email, phone or appointment.
“I have quite a few appointments with students who just want to change the way they eat,” Nance said. “I can see any student. I’m not just here to guide you through the dining hall, I’m actually here to help you through your daily needs too.”