Kelly Burgess wasn’t sure where her interest in a dietetics career would take her, but she found a passion for community nutrition and for serving others at WKU.
“I love to spend time with things that I’m passionate about,” said Burgess, a 2014 graduate of Franklin (Tennessee) High School. “I tried my best to create time in my schedule to do those things I feel are the most important.”
Burgess, a Hospitality Management and Dietetics major (Nutrition and Dietetics concentration), will be honored Saturday as the Ogden Foundation Scholar, WKU’s top academic honor that is presented to one graduating baccalaureate degree senior who has demonstrated exceptional academic achievement and outstanding university and civic engagement. (More: Read more about WKU's 182nd Commencement)
“When I think of being involved in the community it makes me think of being a leader. And to me one of the most important elements of leadership is to serve others,” she said. “I feel like that’s kind of evident a little bit with the rest of my story.” (More: View from the Hill.)
The rest of her story began taking shape in the fall of 2015 when Burgess, then a sophomore in the Mahurin Honors College at WKU, took a Community Nutrition course.
“Community Nutrition was the first course that challenged me to engage with what I was learning outside of the classroom by requiring nutrition-related volunteer hours,” said Burgess, the daughter of Keith and Beth Burgess.
She volunteered at Manna Mart, a food pantry that is part of HOTEL INC (Helping Others Through Extending Love In the Name of Christ). “Not only do you get to give food to people, but you get to help them decide what they want to choose,” Burgess said. “I loved being able to do that.”
That experience led to an Honors thesis research project about how food insecure populations can be positively impacted by customized nutrition education. “I love that nutrition is a really good platform to help people who are less fortunate because everyone needs to eat,” Burgess said. “I was hoping I could do something involving that population and HOTEL INC provided the way to help me do that.”
Burgess also was able to teach a nutrition education session as part of a mission trip to northwest Haiti during 2017’s winter break.
“I didn’t know that I would be able to teach a nutrition education lesson while I was there, but they have a feeding program that is especially for at-risk moms and babies, toddlers, young children,” she said. “I was thankful for what I had learned at Western being able to teach me how to work with different populations.”
Since the fall of 2016, she has written a nutrition column for the College Heights Herald, WKU’s student newspaper. “I was excited because I thought this was something that I had always wanted to do,” she said. “I never thought that I would have the opportunity to do that even in college. It’s definitely lived up to my expectations. Having written my last article for the Herald I was sad because I still have a list of things in my journal that I was wanting to write about.”
Burgess also completed a summer practicum with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service office in Simpson County, has participated in church mission trips to Floyd County in eastern Kentucky, has been a leader in Phi Upsilon Omicron Honor Society, Student Dietetics Association and Christian Student Fellowship and has served as student liaison for the Kentucky Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
But she’s not done yet. “Completing your undergraduate education is just the first step in becoming a registered dietitian,” she said. “After that you complete an internship, then you are eligible to take your exam to be a registered dietitian.”
In a letter of recommendation for the Ogden Foundation Scholar award, Dr. Karen Mason noted that Burgess has a heart for service, delights in helping others, has a strong work ethic and has a positive outlook.
“Kelly wholeheartedly epitomizes the ideal WKU student and truly represents what we hope of every citizen of this country,” said Dr. Mason, associate professor of Nutrition and Dietetics in the College of Health and Human Services. “She is the student every teacher hopes to teach, every parent hopes to raise, every employer hopes to employ and every university hopes to graduate.”
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