WKU graduate named Kentucky Young Dietitian of the Year

Aaron Mudd

Since graduating from WKU in 2009, dietitian Kaitlin Harrison has tasted success. The director of nutrition services at Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center in Leitchfield was recently named 2014’s Kentucky Young Dietitian of the Year.

Despite success in her career as a dietitian, the Morgantown resident is still connected to the Hill. This year Harrison hosted her first intern from WKU, an experience she felt was rewarding.

“It was good to have a student in the building,” Harrison said. “It was a good relationship, and I look forward to working with Western in the future.”

The internship gave Cincinnati graduate student Melissa Mayo a boost in confidence and experience working with patients. Mayo said she appreciated the opportunity. 

“We have learned all of what we needed to know in undergrad,” she said, “but it was the first chance I ever really got to apply it.”

At Twin Lakes, Mayo assisted Harrison with various projects such as the “Fit 4 Fun” program. The program offers monthly counseling to kids who are overweight for their age. Toward the end of her internship, Harrison said that Mayo took over the counseling under her supervision.

“It was a really good experience for her because, in this setting, we’re a small rural hospital so we don’t see a lot of pediatric patients,” she said. “But it was good that she was able to see that population as well.”

Mayo especially enjoyed working on a luncheon that took MyPlate as its theme. MyPlate is a visual graphic which demonstrates healthy portions of food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and proteins. 

“It’s very kid friendly,” she said. “But it’s good for any age.”

Keeping an open mind was something Mayo said helped her in her internship. Fixating on one desired preference is something she warned about.

“If you have something that you’re really set on and you’re not really focusing on anything else then you don’t really get as much experience out of the internship,” Mayo said. “My advice simply would just be keep an open mind and study hard.”

That experience, Harrison said, is something employers look for. She encouraged students to volunteer in nursing homes during school breaks and after school. 

When Twin Lakes chief operating officer Deneace Clemons hired Harrison, she looked at her experience. Before assuming her current position at Twin Lakes, Clemons worked as a dietitian herself.

“You have to remember that when you bring a dietitian in there’s just one of you,” she said. “So when there’s an individual that you’re the only one with the expertise you’ve got to be able to communicate well with others.”

Twin Lakes employs 500 individuals. Harrison encouraged students to be flexible when looking for that first job out of college.

 “Take some chances,” she said. “It may not be your ideal first job, but it doesn’t have to be the job you stick with forever. It’s good experience, and you can at least get your feet wet.”