Research Spotlight on Dara Dirhan, Ed.D, MPH, RD, LDN

February 9th, 2019


Article by: Alissa Smethers PhD, RD, LDN

Hello February and cold weather here in Pennsylvania. This month the Research Spotlight features Dara Dirhan, Ed.D, MPH, RD, LDN. Dara shares insights on her journey in nutrition research below.

Where do you live currently? Is there anything you love about where you’re located?
I currently reside in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I absolutely love downtown West Chester because it is such a quaint and charming town. Living in the borough of West Chester gives me the benefit being able to walk to all of the amazing restaurants and cultural events that the town offers.

Where are you from originally?
I am originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania, specifically, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, which I still love to visit on weekends.

I noticed you’re currently an Assistant Professor of Nutrition at West Chester University, what are you currently working on/researching?
My research is heavily focused on student outcomes and employing the best teaching practices in my classes for the benefit of my students. I especially enjoy using game-based learning in my classes and also enjoy incorporating service learning into the courses I teach in order to motivate and engage my students and to provide them with real-life experiences that take them outside of the classroom. Most recently, in the beginning of January, I presented some of my research on game-based learning that I collected from my nutrition students at the 9th Annual Hawaii University International Conferences Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Where did you go to school? College, internship, etc.
I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from West Chester University. After my undergraduate graduation, I proceeded to complete my dietetic internship at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA. I loved all of my experiences and learning opportunities while in my dietetic internship, but what I noticed that I loved most was any opportunity I was given to teach somebody. For example, I loved teaching cardiac class to heart patients at the hospital, I loved giving presentations to the community or presenting case studies to the dietitians. This was when I really decided that I wanted to pursue a future career in teaching. After the completion of my internship, I knew I wanted to go back to West Chester to further my education. So, upon passing my RDN exam, I returned back to West Chester to complete my Masters in Public Health degree at West Chester University where I also served as a graduate assistant and worked part-time as a corporate wellness dietitian. Then, once I completed my Masters degree, I was offered an adjunct instructor position to teach undergraduate courses at West Chester University. I loved my role as an adjunct instructor so much that I knew I wanted to find a way to make this my full-time job someday. I realized that the only path to fulfilling my dreams of becoming a full-time professor was to obtain my doctorate. As such, I enrolled in Drexel University’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Management program, which I completed alongside my role as adjunct instructor at West Chester University. After obtaining this degree, eventually, I was hired as a full-time, tenure-track, assistant professor of nutrition at West Chester University. I am proud to say that I accomplished my goals and attained my dream job and I could not be happier or more satisfied with the position that I have today.

Have you published anything professionally?
Yes, I have several publications. A majority of my publications are related to best teaching practices in the college/nutrition classroom. My published dissertation examined changes in fruit, vegetable, and fiber intake among college students after taking an introductory undergraduate nutrition course.

How do you feel that your work in research has helped in application to real people?
I believe that my research has benefited the students who take my classes, most of all. I am constantly making an effort to employ new teaching techniques and strategies that make it fun for my students to learn and retain information taught in my classes. I also believe that my publications are of benefit to other educators who hope to do the same for their students.

Why did you decide to focus on nutrition as a career?
I think when you are young, you really don’t know what you want to do as a career, but what you do know is what you believe in and what “makes you tick.” For me, I began my undergraduate studies as a pharmaceutical product development major – I thought I wanted to be a drug rep for a pharmaceutical company. After completing my first year in this major, I had an epiphany that pushing prescription drugs on individuals did not align with my beliefs. As a young individual, I always was aware that foods have powerful healing properties. As such, I decided to take a risk and spent part of my summer between my freshman and sophomore year taking an introductory nutrition class. Upon the completion of this class, I knew this was the field I wanted to dedicate my time, energy, and career to. I switched my major before the start of my sophomore year to nutrition and dietetics, and I never looked back. Turns out, this was the best decision I ever made and the rest of my career path slowly fell into place as I progressed along the paths of continuing my education.

How do you like to spend your free time?
I am an avid reader. I love to expand my worldview wherever possible, so I gravitate towards reading books that give me a new or a different perspective on life. Probably my favorite author of all time is Brene Brown – if you have not read any of her books, I would highly recommend checking them out. I also have a very deep faith and am committed to attending mass, daily prayer and meditation, and I even run a weekly chaplet of the divine mercy at our campus Newman Center. Lastly, I am a huge foodie and love to travel. Put the two together, and I love to find the most popular “eats” in all of the places I travel to. Most recently, I discovered some delicious Sichuan blanket noodles in my travels to Honolulu at one of the newest and only authentic Sichuan restaurants on Oahu called Joy Cup Noodles.

What is your favorite food? Is there anything people be shocked you like or hate?
It is hard for me to pick a favorite food as there are so many foods that I love and appreciate. However, I am of Italian and Slovak heritage and I also have a deep love for Asian cuisine, and so I would say that my deepest love for a food would be any variety and form of noodle or dumpling – anything from gnocchi to homemade macaroni to dan dan noodles to pierogi – they all work for me.

Posted by: Julie Stefanski

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