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About Us

At UTNI, we teach that improving personal and public health starts with real nutrition.

Who We Are

The University of Texas Nutrition Institute includes researchers, dietitians, scientists, innovators, educators and entrepreneurs, all working to elevate and share evidence-based nutrition education with the public. 

The Institute is an interdisciplinary partnership across the UT Department of Nutritional Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences, and the McCombs School of Business.

Our Mission

We aim to harness the power of nutritional science to revolutionize personal and public health. Our goal is to use nutrition science to create real-world impact. 

Our motto here at the University of Texas at Austin is “what starts here changes the world”—we hope that the UT Nutrition Institute changes the way we eat, for the better.

Our Partners

We believe healthy communities start with incorporating nutrition into everyday life, and our partners are making it happen.

Interested in working with us?

Healthcare Professionals

We collaborate with the Dell Medical School to promote nutrition and wellness programs, educate providers, and improve patient lives.

Opportunities for Healthcare Professionals

Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders

We advise and inspire entrepreneurs to create healthy foods and products that promote public health through good nutrition.

Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Garden Educators

The EdEN Lab, housed within the UT Nutrition Institute, supports school gardens, teachers, and communities through research, evaluation, and training.

Opportunities for Garden Educators

Community Members

From camps to classes to cooking demonstrations, we share nutritional knowledge to improve your everyday life.

Opportunities for Parents and Families

Students

Our diverse and unique curriculum encourages professional growth and entrepreneurial action in our students.

Opportunities for Students

Our Team

Portrait of Marissa Duswalt Epstein

Marissa Duswalt Epstein

Director

Marissa is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Director of the UT Nutrition Institute. Most recently, she taught nutrition innovation at Stanford University and led digital patient education for Stanford Health Care. Prior, she drove nutrition initiatives for First Lady Michelle Obama in The White House as Associate Director of the Let’s Move! initiative. She is a Truman Scholar, nationally recognized for her policy writing, public service, and leadership in nutrition education. Marissa earned her BS in nutrition from UT and her MBA from Stanford.

Portrait of Aaliyah Jenkins

Aaliyah Jenkins

Design and Brand Lead

Aaliyah Jenkins is the Design and Brand Manager for the UT Nutrition Institute. She is passionate about using her creative skills to further the Nutrition Institute’s mission and culture of better-for-you innovation in food and beverage. A Proud Longhorn, Aaliyah earned her BS in nutrition and her BA in Plan II Honors right here on the Forty Acres.

Portrait of Kate Morton

Kate Morton

Nutrition and Entrepreneurship Innovation Lead

Kate Morton is a Registered Dietitian and CPG entrepreneur. She earned her master’s degree in human clinical nutrition from the University of Alabama. Kate has worked with various companies—including her own—to create innovative products in the better-for-you space and is committed to bringing products to market that are truly better for the consumer. She also has extensive experience in sales and marketing from her time in the private sector.

Portrait of Stephanie Tran

Stephanie Tran

Administrative Associate

Stephanie Tran is an Administrative Associate for the Department of Nutritional Sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin. She assists with the marketing efforts and promotion of the UT online master’s program in nutrition (MSNS). She also generates and manages content for the department's social media channels. She designs monthly newsletters and blogs for the department's website and also helps to plan and provide administrative support for special events/programs.

Portrait of Dr. Molly Bray

Dr. Molly Bray

Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences

Dr. Molly Bray is the Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences, a Professor in the department, and is the Susan T. Jastrow Chair for Excellence in Nutritional Sciences. Dr. Bray earned a Ph.D. in human and molecular genetics from the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. She previously served as the Director of the Heflin Center for Genomic Sciences Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine Genetics Core Laboratory.

Portrait of Dr. Jaimie Davis

Dr. Jaimie Davis

Associate Professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences

Jaimie Davis is a Registered Dietitian and Associate Professor at UT-Austin. She has extensive expertise in nutrition, physical activity, and body composition assessment in pediatric populations. Many of her studies among obese Hispanic youth have shown protective effects of diets low in sugar and high in dietary fiber and fruits and vegetables against obesity and related diseases. Dr. Davis’s research also involves developing school and community-based gardening and cooking programs for obesity prevention and treatment in low-income minority populations.

Portrait of Drew Hays

Drew Hays

Assistant Professor, Department on Nutritional Sciences

Drew Hays is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department on Nutritional Sciences.  She received her Master’s Degree of Nutritional Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin and is a professionally trained chef from Le Cordon Bleu Academy of Culinary Arts.  As a chef, she has held a variety of positions including Food Stylist and R&D Chef for the Food Network in New York City. Prior to her position at the University of Texas, she worked as a Clinical Dietitian providing medical nutrition therapy in the acute care setting.

Portrait of Dr. Laura Lashinger

Dr. Laura Lashinger

Assistant Professor, Department on Nutritional Sciences

Dr. Laura Lashinger is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. She received a Ph.D in cancer biology from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Her research focuses on the effects of energy balance, particularly calorie restriction, on the progression of cancers using animal models. She currently teaches the advanced nutritional sciences course for undergraduates.

Portrait of Dr. Heather Leidy

Dr. Heather Leidy

Associate Professor, Department on Nutritional Sciences

Dr. Heather Leidy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. She completed a Ph.D. in physiology (with an emphasis in exercise endocrinology and metabolism) at Penn State University as well as a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University. She was also one of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members. Her research examines the effect of quantity, quality, and timing of dietary protein consumption on the signals that promote healthy eating and weight management across the lifespan.

Portrait of Monica Milonovich

Monica Milonovich

Assistant Professor, Department on Nutritional Sciences

Monica Milonovich is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. Monica has spent over 10 years in the field of clinical dietetics. During this time, she has worked as a clinical nutrition manager, ensuring consistent clinical nutrition services including policy revisions, food service, and medical nutrition therapy. She teaches both medical nutrition therapy courses and the clinical practice in medical nutrition therapy at the University of Texas.

Portrait of Dr. Beth Widen

Dr. Beth Widen

Assistant Professor, Department on Nutritional Sciences

Dr. Beth Widen is Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and affiliate faculty at the Population Research Center, the Departments of Women’s Health, and Pediatrics at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin. She received a Ph.D. in Nutrition with a minor in Epidemiology from the University of North California at Chapel Hill, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University and is a Registered Dietitian.  

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