Melton to Deliver the 12th Annual CDPHP Nutrition Lecture at Russell Sage College 

Tamara Melton

Tamara Melton intended to go to culinary school to become a chef. Then her grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes and didn’t know where to turn for guidance about how to eat. Melton tried to help her find resources, and in the process, decided to become a Registered Dietitian. 

Since then, she has counseled hundreds of individuals with health and nutrition concerns and educated or advised thousands more future RDs, as well as aspiring professionals in health informatics and related disciplines. 

Today, Melton leads Diversify Dietetics and LaCarte Wellness. Diversify Dietetics is the nonprofit she co-founded to attract, encourage, and empower individuals of color in the field of nutrition and dietetics, and LaCarte Wellness is her nutrition counseling practice that specializes in hormone health for women of color. 

Melton uses a strengths-based approach in her work helping others reach their educational, professional, and health goals. On Thursday, March 28, she’ll be at Russell Sage College to talk about what a strengths-based approach is and how educators, clinicians, and professionals in any field can apply it in their own work. Her talk is at 3 p.m. in Bush Memorial on Sage’s Troy campus; a Zoom link will also be available. The talk is free, but registration is requested at alumni.sage.edu/nutrition

Keep reading to learn more about Melton, Diversify Dietetics, and what you can expect to learn at this year’s CDPHP Nutrition Lecture at Russell Sage College.

On March 28, you’ll deliver a talk here at Sage titled “Beyond DEI: Empowering Patients and Students through Strength-Based Approaches in Education and Healthcare.” Would you tell us more about your topic? 

Typically, when you have someone who is from a different community or not homogeneous with a group, whatever their differences are, they are seen as a hindrance or a barrier. 

I’ll be talking about developing an asset-based approach in teaching or providing healthcare, and seeing differences as assets. I’m going to dive into what happens to students’ and patients’ brains when they’re in environments where they don’t feel supported — how students cannot learn as well, and patients are not able to heal as well. 

For example, I just talked to a woman who is postpartum. She was telling me how her mother made her a traditional tea right after she had her baby. She’s doing something different than Western medicine, but it’s something from her culture that really supported her. 

It’s not something there is a lot of research on to prove that it is helpful, but there is also no indication that it is harmful. So instead of dismissing it, saying there’s no research that it is helpful, I said, “Your mother’s there with you, and she’s supporting you, and I hope one day the research catches up so we can see if there’s something there.” There probably is something there. That’s an asset-based approach to working with the patient. 

I don’t just talk about the what of DEI or the why, we know that already. I will talk about how. I like to give people actionable techniques and resources that they can use in their own work the very next day.

Looking at something from a strength-based approach applies to many different areas of life, and I’m really excited because I know that there’s going to be an interdisciplinary group in the room at Russell Sage.  

Before starting Diversify Dietetics, you started the Health Informatics program at Georgia State University, and had great success recruiting and retaining a diverse student body. How did that experience influence the work you do now?

When I was promoted to start the Health Informatics program, one of the things that I wanted to do was support students of color and students who might have a harder time getting through a traditional college program. 

I was looking at what was keeping students from progressing because I had worked in admissions and recruitment, and I was teaching and advising as a professor.

Georgia State is a very diverse campus. It graduates the most Black students in the country. At the time, it was really a commuter campus. And a lot of the students worked. 

So one of the things that I did was arrange the schedule around the students instead of around the faculty. We had a condensed schedule, such that students are only on campus two days and one night or two nights and one day, so they can work.

We offered all of our courses twice a year, so if somebody had to take a break, they could start right back up. It was unconventional, because a lot of programs only offer certain classes once a year. 

I created a course about the professional world of health informatics. It was things like how to network, what employers expect beyond the application when you apply for a job … teaching those skills that if you grew up around family members who were in a professional world, or who’d gone to college, you would know by assimilation.

But if you were a first-generation student, or if you were an immigrant, or if English wasn’t your first language — most of my students were in one of those categories — they would not have learned that. 

And it worked. They started graduating and getting fabulous jobs because the program really supported them. The campus just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of that program. 

And after four years of that, I looked back at nutrition. And I realized that’s why students of color are not making it through nutrition programs, because no one’s actually doing it in this unconventional way, and creating this supportive community. That’s where the idea for Diversify Dietetics came from.

Diversify Dietetics offers scholarships, mentoring, professional development, and more. Tell me about the individuals Diversify Dietetics Works with. 

We work with undergraduate to graduate students in master’s programs, Ph.D. programs, whatever. A lot of career changers, a lot. People discover nutrition as they get older.

We hold advising appointments for career-changers, because where would they go to get advisement? They’re not in any university yet. 

And what has happened is, students are with us, they graduate, pass the RD exam, and become professionals, and they began asking us for professional development. So we also have programs for professionals. 

What is coming up that you are particularly excited about?

We’ll have our first in-person conference, the Diversify Dietetics Summit 2024, in June in Atlanta! Before that, as a pre-summit event, we’re doing a media and communications training workshop. A lot of food brands and media outlets want to work with dietitians of color, and not a lot of dietitians of color are media-trained. They have the nutrition knowledge and talent, but  there’s a lot of work that goes into written and on-air communication. 

Last year we did a strategic planning process and one of the things that we heard was, “We really want to do things in person.” So, we offered a media training workshop last summer in person, which also let us know we love doing things in-person together. We’re doing it again this year, the two-day media training, then offering the three-day conference. I’m really excited! 

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