Features Nutrition Students

Promoting  preventive health to combat diabetes

For Feyi Olufemi, a PhD in nutrition offers tools to help prevent diabetes in Nigeria and beyond

By Andrew Mobbs

Having a mother who works in community health helped Feyisayo (Feyi) Olufemi recognize the importance of public health early on. It has since blossomed into her educational trajectory, starting with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Adekunle Ajasin University in Nigeria.  

“During my undergraduate experience, I worked in a laboratory, where we designed drugs to manage diabetes,” Feyi says. “I knew that people with this disease go through such pain.” 

Feyi became a pharmacy tech after earning her degree. In helping diabetic patients, she noticed how expensive their medicines were. “It’s choosing between your health and other important things that cost money. I decided we could prevent this from happening.” 

Knowing that nutrition is a major risk factor for chronic diabetes, Feyi shifted her focus to preventative nutritional health and decided to continue her studies. 

Applying to OSU’s PhD in nutrition program

Initially, Feyi searched for graduate programs in the United States. “I knew I’d gain more knowledge to apply back in my home country,” she explained.  

Soon, Oregon State caught her attention on LinkedIn. Feyi read about the College of Health and contacted Ellen Smit whose research is at the intersection of food security, epidemiology and nutrition. “We had a conversation, and I knew Dr. Smit was somebody I wanted to work with.” Feyi applied and was accepted into Oregon State’s PhD in nutrition program, beginning September 2023. 

Finding motivation for interdisciplinary research

Feyi’s mother’s public health work centers on mother and child health. To this end, Feyi noticed a gap in research on gestational diabetes, especially regarding preventative health. “People don’t often talk about gestational diabetes, which affects a lot of women during pregnancy,” she says. “I decided to research how we can prevent this type of diabetes.” 

During her first term at Oregon State, she took an epidemiology course and realized there were limited epidemiological studies on gestational diabetes. “I started a concurrent MPH in epidemiology alongside my PhD to connect everything. Epidemiology will help me better understand the population I’m focused on.” 

Navigating graduate school 

So far, Feyi has enjoyed her experience as a doctoral student, while acknowledging the dual learning curve of US culture and educational systems, which differ from those in Nigeria. As a graduate teaching assistant, she has also taught courses in food and culture, and lifetime fitness and health. “It’s been an amazing journey. Having a community of teachers has been helpful.” 

Outside of class, Feyi enjoys spending time with her Nigerian friends who also study at Oregon State. “I love to bake. I make desserts for my friends and invite them over to watch TV. We get to have fun and take a break from researching and grading.” 

Feyi also stays connected to her NGO, NutriLife Nigeria, which she cofounded with three friends in Nigeria. NutriLife offers free nutrition education. “I still participate in seminars and webinars and help write plans for public health campaigns.”