We spoke with Dja-maa Shepp, an adjunct professor at NYU and an alumna of NYU Steinhardt’s MS in Nutrition and Dietetics. After completing her dietetic internship at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center, Dja-maa ultimately joined the Center as a clinical dietitian.
Tell me about yourself and what initially brought you to the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.
I love food! A lot. Maybe too much? It had been like this all my life and I spent many years outside of school learning about ways to stay healthy and still enjoy my love of food. However, I knew I was missing core concepts. That’s what initially brought me to the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies. I wanted to know more about food. I knew I wanted to be at NYU because of its premier reputation. What I didn’t know was the depth of education I was about to receive.
I was introduced to the science of food and its interactive biochemical relationship with the human body. The vastness and complexity of the field opened my eyes to different potential career paths from research and education to clinical practice and beyond. It was a little daunting but even more exciting to get to learn and explore.
Can you tell me a little bit about your current position?
After graduating from NYU and completing my dietetic internship at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center, I began working full time at the VA where I see complex-care homebound veterans. The job is a fulfilling fusion of clinical and community nutrition that has allowed me to develop as a practitioner and led me back to the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies as an educator.
I teach a graduate-level Community Nutrition course at NYU. The class focuses on concepts and strategies for promoting health and preventing disease through nutrition in a community setting. The students learn about public health nutrition, nutrition education, and medical nutrition therapy among other topics.
Both positions are dynamic and gratifying. I get to help people and no two days are alike. It’s pretty fantastic.
Have you always been in the nutrition space?
I am definitely a career changer, many times over! My career path has been long and winding. I spent the majority of my pre-nutrition years in the communications department of a large corporation. The skills I learned prior to my entry into the nutrition field have been invaluable, such as time management, team building, and self-reliance.
Despite the positives, I was missing fulfillment in my corporate job. The transition to the food and nutrition space came after much self-reflection about my true interests, which have consistently focused on promoting health through food and working with people.
Making the leap was not an easy one. I had to make some tough choices, the hardest of which was leaving a relatively comfortable, well-paying job and jumping into the unknown. Ultimately, it was the best decision I ever made. Although it took some time, I see my varied work history as a true asset. I not only grew from the experiences, but I now have a clear measure of career satisfaction.
How do you think your time at NYU Steinhardt shaped your career path?
NYU Steinhardt provided me with the educational and experiential tools necessary to reach my short-term and long-term goals. Two elements stand out as the most influential. First, the expert and approachable faculty and professors. I received a superior education with sustained and consistent guidance that gave me a foundation to start my new career.
Second, the program gave me space and time to explore the multitude of educational and career opportunities that exist within the food and nutrition space. I didn’t randomly land my dream jobs – because of this program, I was able to choose them.
What is your favorite memory from your time at NYU Steinhardt?
This is a hard question! I have a lot of great memories. If I had to settle on one it would be my time as a TA for Nutritional Biochemistry. I had one particular student who came to office hours every week. She had struggled on the first of three exams and was determined to do better. On each successive exam, she improved and ended up earning an A in the class. Watching her succeed is one of my most gratifying memories.
But I can’t leave out the friends I made, the dedicated professors I learned from, and my advisor who motivated me and always had my back.
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Learn More About the MS in Nutrition
If you’re a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or have already completed a dietetic internship, the 34-credit master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics will further develop and advance your clinical dietetics training.
The 40-credit MS in Nutrition and Dietetics with a Concentration in Clinical Nutrition will put you on track toward attaining Registered Dietitian Nutritionist credentials.