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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Who are your heroes?

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

Purdue Nutrition Science Hall of Fame recipients

I was honored this week with induction into the Purdue University Nutrition Science Hall of Fame. This is the department where I studied and later taught. In the photos with me are past and current recipients of the award and our department head, Dr. Michele Forman.

Receiving this award caused me to reflect on the many heroes in my life who made a significant difference in where I attended college, what I studied, and the trajectory of my career. Who are your heroes?

I decided “Purdue was for me” long before that became a marketing slogan, and I didn’t even grow up in Indiana where the desire to become a Boilermaker is instilled from birth. I grew up in Ithaca, NY – the daughter of a Cornell professor – but my parents had college buddies at the University of Illinois – Bob and Virginia Peart – who came to Purdue when my dad went to Cornell. They were lifelong family friends and were the first to encourage me to come to Purdue. Thanks, Bob and Virginia, you are still my heroes.

With the Peart’s prompting, in the summer of my junior year of high school, I came out to Purdue with my parents for a college visit. I still remember meeting Isabel Reynolds in the counseling office and how welcome she made me feel and how convincing she was that Purdue was for me. Isabel was one of the first of so many special people who helped make my Purdue experience so positive. Who nailed your decision to attend your school of choice? They are a hero.

I had so many heroes as an undergrad… beginning with Bob and Virginia Peart who served as substitute parents, taking me with them to church, inviting me over for family meals, letting me borrow their car.

Two special professors stand out above the rest: Karen Jamesen was my advisor and along with Olivia Bennett Wood taught me everything I knew about foods and nutrition when I graduated. When I became a teacher in the same department, it was their shoes I strove to fill.

Mary Alice Nebold was the advisor for the Purdue Student Home Economics Association, of which I was President. I recall fondly many visits to her office to plan meetings and special events and to get great advice. Mentors for extra-curricular activities are extra-special heroes.

Two of my classmates have remained close friends – Donna Vandergraff and Lisa Chapman Hoelscher. If we had had the alumni network and Facebook in 1979 I’m sure I’d still be in touch with many more. Do you have college buddies you are still friends with? I’m certainly glad my parents stayed in touch with their “old” college friends!

In the 20 years between graduating and returning to teach, I stayed connected with the department as a guest speaker and helping with an annual video conference. I continued to learn from my department and to build connections. Do you stay connected with your heroes? I am sure it opened doors to teaching for me.

During my time on the Purdue faculty I enjoyed working alongside so many wonderful people. I had the pleasure of co-teaching either online or in person with a dozen other faculty members over my 16½ years. Sharing teaching reinforced my belief in teamwork. We taught to our strengths, we encouraged each other, we learned from each other. Are there heroes among your coworkers?

Three other department heroes deserve a special callout: Marleen Troyer for all of her wisdom on advising students; Jan Buckles for her endless encouragement and unselfish assistance; and Connie Weaver for all of her enthusiastic support to try just about anything I could dream of. I hope you have heroes at all levels in your place of work.

In academia, graduate and undergraduate student TAs are often unsung heroes who save the day on a daily basis. To all who helped me grade and keep my sanity, thank you! Who has made your job easier and more pleasant?

Last but not least, are the students who allowed me to teach them and have taken what they learned to go above and beyond in their own careers. I learned so much from teaching and if I helped make my students' Purdue experience as positive as my own, I achieved my goal. They were my motivation to take on the task of editor-in-chief for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide. I hope to leave a legacy to future generations of nutrition communicators.

People are what make any institution or organization great. People who extend a welcome and make us want to be there in the 1st place, people who make learning or working exciting and role model excellence, people who share a common mission to make a difference in other people’s lives. Heroes - who are yours?

“A mentor enables a person to achieve. A hero shows what achievement looks like.”

John C. Mather

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