Mary Ann Johnson, who holds the Bill and June Flatt Professorship in Foods and Nutrition, is an expert in nutrition and aging. She involves her students beyond the classroom in research and outreach programs with older adults.
Where did you earn degrees, and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned a B.A. in chemistry from the University of Northern Iowa and a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I am a professor and graduate coordinator in the department of foods and nutrition in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and also an affiliated faculty member of the UGA Institute of Gerontology.
When did you come to UGA, and what brought you here?
I joined UGA in 1983 as an assistant professor—my first real job after several years of being a graduate assistant, as well as coaching, lifeguarding, babysitting and waitressing.
What are your favorite courses, and why?
I enjoy teaching undergraduate and graduate courses for freshman through doctoral students. My most enjoyable moments are when students develop confidence and skills in professional speaking and writing and when they become independent learners and seek new information on their own—without my help!
What interests you about your field?
My field requires an understanding of human health and well-being that includes molecules, genes, nutrients, food and food ingredients, cooking, families, communities and societies. While some people are concerned that “nutrition experts are always changing their minds,” I find the rapid expansion in our knowledge about human nutrition exhilarating. My main research area is nutrition and aging, an area undergoing rapid increases in knowledge. When most current UGA students are “old”—in their 60s and beyond—one in four Americans will be older adults. So the study of aging involves learning about, anticipating and maybe even changing the future for today’s young people.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
The best thing about UGA is the students. I experience sadness along with happiness when our students graduate, but then it is always great to have new students with new ideas and outlooks joining UGA each year. Outside the classroom, most of my involvement with students is in research and outreach programs with older adults.
Some of my recent awards include the UGA Foods and Nutrition Teacher of the Year, 2010; Gamma Sigma Delta Senior Research Award, 2010; American Society for Nutrition, national spokesperson, inaugural class, 2008-present; UGA Outreach Award, Family and Consumer Sciences, 2008; Research Award, Georgia Diabetes Coalition, 2007. I have also been a UGA Lilly Teaching Fellow, both a Junior Fellow (1984) and a Senior Fellow (1998)
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching?
My teaching is integrated into my research and outreach activities, so they are not always easily separated. For example, I supervise our first-year dietetic interns who provide educational programs such as “Spice Up Your Life!” for older adults and nutrition and physical activity programs for After School Garden Programs, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and the Athens-Clarke County Worksite Wellness Program. They also help with the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program that offers fresh vegetables from local farmers to low-income older people. These experiences often lead to research projects where students measure improvements in healthy food choices and lifestyle behaviors.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experiences with you?
I hope students will become independent learners and see that with perseverance they can continuously improve their knowledge and understanding about even the most complex human nutrition problems.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is one who believes most of what I say—but not everything! It is important to question the source of information and the perspective it represents, e.g., food industry, supplement industry, dietitian, other health care providers, parent or child.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
Besides being in Dawson Hall, I enjoy music performances by UGA students and musicians from around the world at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, as well as a variety of sporting events.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
…spend time with my children as they pursue their interests in music, cross country, track and other activities. I also collect pottery and other artwork from artists in northeast Georgia.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church, where I am involved with teaching Sunday school, congregational care, the Interfaith Hospitality Network and seeking certification to work with older adults through the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network.
When I need a good laugh or a stroll down memory lane, I enjoy movies and TV shows from the 70s and 80s (“That 70s Show”). I also enjoy reading English and Russian history and biographies of famous women scientists and leaders.
Proudest moment at UGA?
My proudest moment at UGA was being awarded the Bill and June Flatt Professorship in Foods and Nutrition. Bill Flatt was dean of the College of Agriculture (now College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) when I arrived at UGA and he took a special interest in helping new faculty become oriented to university teaching, research and service. It really helps to have senior faculty looking out for you when you are a new assistant professor. Bill and June Flatt are two very special people in the life of UGA and Athens, and it is humbling and inspiring to receive this professorship endowed by them.