Alumni Nutrition

A different set of tools

Oregon State nutrition program helps round out alumna Melanie Jackson’s medical practice

Melanie Jackson

By Hanna Knowles

When deciding on a major, Melanie Jackson, ’10, followed her personal interest in nutrition. This led her to Oregon State University — the only university in Oregon that offers an accredited nutrition degree.  

Melanie wasn’t sure what would come after college — pursuing medical school or a doctoral degree — but the nutrition and health sciences major option aligned with her interests and ended up clarifying her path. 

Majoring in nutrition offers a perspective on health 

Melanie says the nutrition and health sciences option is great for pre-med students because it offers all of the basic science requirements. It also aligns with her interest in whole health and desire to have a strong background in nutrition. 

“When I was looking at medical school curriculums, I saw how little nutrition information there was, which makes sense since medical schools are training a wide variety of skill sets,” Melanie says. “Nutrition was something I wanted to know more about for the direction I wanted to go in medicine.” 

“Nutrition is a perspective on health. If you can address health with lifestyle changes, then you can maintain better health, instead of just addressing calamity after it happens.” 

Undergraduate research clarified her path and added a new set of tools 

One day after a nutrition class, she asked Professor Russ Turner a question and ended up following him to his office engrossed in conversation. “By the end of the conversation, I had joined their research team as an undergraduate student researcher,” she says.  

She worked in the Skeletal Biology Laboratory for three years, and to fulfill Honors College requirements, she asked Russ and Professor Urszula Iwaniec if she could work with them on her Honors College thesis. 

They agreed, and she set out to carve her own research niche within the context of the lab. “It was a really good learning opportunity to independently craft a research question,” Melanie says. “It is a totally different mindset.” 

Urszula and Russ encouraged her to submit her thesis to research journals to maximize her effort, which brought an entirely new learning opportunity. “They were excellent mentors,” she says, “but there was no hand holding. I was told about different resources and then to go write.” 

Shortly after graduating, her undergraduate research paper was published.  

Melanie says having an active research agenda and a strong graduate program significantly added to her experience in the nutrition and health sciences major option.  

“I interacted with graduate students a lot and attended graduate student seminars,” she says. “Knowing what grad students were working on and learning about potential careers gave the program an academic feel.” 

Confident to take on medical school  

Melanie credits majoring in nutrition and her undergraduate research experience for her success toward her career path. 

“I enjoyed research, but I also liked the idea of spending time with people and getting to know them,” she says. 

After graduating from Oregon State, she attended medical school at Oregon Health & Science University. Melanie is now back in Corvallis as an endocrinologist at Samaritan Health Services.  

“I think the research experience in what is essentially an endocrinology lab was helpful for my med school application and set my career path,” Melanie says. “I didn’t know it at the time, and I’m not sure I knew what endocrinology was before that experience, but now it is my specialty.” 

 “Nutrition and health sciences gave me an extra set of tools I can use. It is more complementary than biology or chemistry.” 

Seize opportunities to build your tool box 

Melanie encourages students to use their time in undergraduate school to broaden their horizons and pursue their interests, especially when considering medical school. 

You need to have a good handle on your basic sciences,” she says. “I had the opportunity to take extra chemistry, but I don’t think that would have affected my career.”  

“I believed nutrition would benefit my career and I’m still really glad I pursued it.”