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Research, patient care and the Oprah Winfrey show

Christine Palumbo ’75 on the set of a television studio.
Christine Palumbo ’75 on the set of a television studio.
Photo courtesy of Christine Palumbo.

When Ann Coulston ’63, Denise Goggin Andersen ’71, and Christine Palumbo ’75 all majored in foods and nutrition science at St. Kate’s, they had no idea where their education would take them.

Research: Ann Coulston

While many of her contemporaries majored in general home economics in order to become teachers, Ann Coulston took the road less traveled, specializing in foods and nutrition. “Our class was small,” she recalls, “with only five or six students choosing this specialty.”

She credits a good solid program, excellent teachers and a strong liberal arts education for her success in securing an internship after graduation. “We all got good dietetic internships — the reputation of St. Kate’s preceded us. This was most important,” she emphasizes.

A few years after completing her internship at St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center (now Regions Hospital) in St. Paul, Minn., she earned a Master of Science in Nutrition (with an emphasis on research) at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “I learned at St. Kate’s how to continue learning,” she says.

From then on, Coulston held research positions in California. The bulk of her career — over 20 years — was spent as a senior research dietitian at Stanford University Medical Center. Her research on diabetes and cardiovascular disease has appeared in numerous publications, from textbooks to professional journals.

Coulston has also been actively involved in professional organizations, both locally and nationally. She has received numerous service anAnn Coulstond leadership awards from the California Dietetic Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association).

Now retired, Coulston thinks back to where it all began.

“St. Kate’s gave me the leadership skills I utilized in the American Dietetic Association; ultimately serving as president,” she says. “I’ve never regretted my career choice or my undergraduate college.”      

Ann Coulston, right, at a
cooking class in Tuscany.

Patient Care: Denise Andersen

While Coulston found her niche in research, Denise Andersen chose a different path.

“I wanted to work with patients,” says Andersen. After graduating from St. Kate’s she gained experience in both nursing home and hospital settings. “At each position I learned a lot,” she says, “which helped me to progress in the field of dietetics.”    

Andersen stayed in contact with her St. Kate’s mentor,  Phyllis Osborne, long after graduation. “She encouraged me to get my master’s degree, so I did.”

It was a time-consuming process, but one well worth the effort. “Since I was married and had two children,” she explains, “I took only one or two classes at a time.” Her perseverance paid off. Andersen graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Stout with a Master of Science in Food Science and Nutrition.

Since then, she has held a variety of positions, from inpatient dietitian to regional clinical nutrition manager. Andersen now works as a nutrition consultant in private practice. She offers this advice: “You need to take a chance and try any new position in which you have an interest. St. Kate’s gave me the incentive, knowledge, and drive to keep on trying.”

This drive also carried over to the volunteer aspect of her profession. She currently serves as president of the Twin Cities district of the Minnesota Dietetic Association. She was also recently appointed as one of 10 members of the Positions Committee of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Oprah: Christine Palumbo

As Christine Palumbo has learned: sometimes your path finds you. She began her time at St. Kate’s as a biology major. Halfway through her sophomore year, she had second thoughts. “It just wasn’t for me,” she says.

During her search for a new major, she found herself in line at the cafeteria next to another sophomore named Debbie. “What’s your major?” Palumbo asked. “Foods and Nutrition,” replied Debbie. Her interest piqued, Palumbo decided to take an introductory nutrition class.

By the end of that year, Palumbo was hooked. She says, “it was a match made in heaven — science, medicine, people, food!”

Palumbo spent a lot of time “hitting the books,” eventually being named outstanding senior in the foods and nutrition program. “At St. Kate’s I developed work habits that continued throughout my career: arrive early, work hard, exceed expectations,” she notes.

While others in her field went on to earn master’s degrees in nutrition and public health, Palumbo pursued a Master of Business Administration degree (with a marketing concentration) at DePaul University in Chicago, Ill. “I like to be different,” she explains.

As she began her career as a registered dietitian, she found herself “connecting” with people, individuals as well as groups. She also discovered that she could translate scientific nutrition information into everyday language. Then the realization hit her: “I can change people’s lives.”

Soon Palumbo was giving presentations, writing newspaper and magazine articles, and making television and radio appearances. It was her participation in a panel discussion on Chicago Public Radio that later opened the door for her to appear on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” — in a segment on the health benefits of drinking water.

So, what happened to Debbie from the cafeteria?

Deb Barone Sheats ’75 is back at St. Kate’s. She’s the department chair and assistant professor of family, consumer, and nutritional sciences, and dietetics program director— and she enjoys seeing up-and-coming dietitians find their own way in a changing and growing profession. However, one thing in her field has remained constant over the years.

“Since 1969, the St. Kate’s pass rate for the competitive Registered Dietitian exam has remained unchanged,” she says. “It’s still 100 percent!”

Jan. 24, 2012 by Deb Olsen Jacobe ’82

See also: Alumnae/i, Faculty, Healthcare, Leadership