Led by Inspiration: 2023 GE Professorship Recipient Rickelle Richards

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Rickel Richards, PhD, MPH, RDN knows that the places the Lord leads us are not always what we expect. Every day at Brigham Young University, Richards teaches large and small groups about the principles of nutrition. From general education classes to complex upper-level courses, Richards embraces the challenge of teaching students with diverse backgrounds and knowledge bases. For years of service to the general education program and its students, BYU has awarded the 2023 General Education (GE) Professorship to Rickel Richards.

Dr. Riquel Richards outside the Eyring Science Center.

Photo by Brooklyn Jarvis Kelson/BYU

Although Richard has taught at BYU for more than 15 years, becoming a professor wasn’t always her plan. She grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and various locations in Utah. She received her bachelor’s degree in nutrition science from Utah State University, her master’s in public health from Tulane University in Louisiana, and her Ph.D. in nutrition at the University of Minnesota. Richards chose to attend universities in different locations to gain a variety of experiences. While studying, she had many ideas for her career. During her master’s degree, she was an intern at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, and considered working with the government. She plans to go to medical school to become a pediatrician and pursue a career in research.

Two years after completing her doctorate, Richards received a call from Meryl Christensen, a BYU professor and head of the department’s search committee, who asked if she was interested in applying for a teaching position at the university. She received her Richards designation from Utah State University, where she received her Ph.D. Before choosing the University of Minnesota program. Although she wasn’t looking for a job at the time, Christensen called her a year later, and eventually Richards came to BYU for an interview. She believes Heavenly Father knew teaching wasn’t in her plans and he inspired her to lead her to BYU.

“When I came to BYU, I felt very strongly that if I was given the job, this is what it should be,” Richards said. I loved teaching, but I didn’t know how much I wanted to teach.

For Richards, teaching GE classes is a rewarding experience that brings its own unique challenges. For example, teaching 200-250 students per class makes it more difficult to interact with students on a personal level. She knows that students in these large groups have different levels of knowledge and interests. Some students are interested in science while others are completing GE credits. Richards teaches some of the top scientists in her GE classes who want a more detailed look at nutrition concepts.

Richards works diligently to meet the learning needs of these diverse groups and enjoys teaching a diverse group of students about a topic that touches all of their lives. While some students may not have a strong interest in nutrition science, she hopes their interest will grow during her class. Richards believes that taking nutrition as a GE class can benefit all students, regardless of their major. Even when some information is not stored, the students who learn in the classroom improve their lives.

“The only thing they take away with them is the ability to be more critical of the information that comes out about nutrition and then think about how it will benefit them and their family in the future,” Richards said. She later added, “There are a lot of extreme ideas out there, but it’s more about moderate and moderate ideas. I hope from this university you will connect principles with words of wisdom and how. . . We can be good stewards of our bodies.

Richards seeks an “active learning” environment with meaningful participation from students. She also focuses on “motivational learning” that encourages discovery as part of the learning process. Over the years, Richards has worked to increase the interaction of her classes by incorporating technology. To add variety to her classroom, she tries to break up lessons into assessment activities. For her upper division classes, she often praises the students for their hard work and gives specific feedback to help them improve their work. By experimenting with different methods, Richards found what worked best and refined her pieces over time.

“My gratitude and deep appreciation for this university, its history and what it allows us to do, has grown over time, the more I’ve studied and read and experienced different things,” Richards said.

It took Richards time and effort to learn how to naturally discuss evangelical principles while teaching, something that was not common in the institutions she taught at. She believes that taking that time is well worth it. For new professors in a similar situation, she advises, “find out what works. [them] To bring spirit into the room,” she added, “I don’t think there’s one model, I think you have to find what works for you.”

In addition to her work as a professor, Richards continuously contributes to various research projects. Her research focuses on community nutrition and public health nutrition. She is particularly interested in serving low-income populations. Current research topics include food insecurity among college students, children’s food choices when parents or caregivers are not present (independent dining opportunities), and the effectiveness of the federal government’s food insecurity research module among college students and Spanish-speaking families. These projects involve professionals and universities across the country and aim to improve the nutritional experience of the public and individuals at the national level.

Richards currently serves in a leadership position for the Association for Nutrition Education and Ethics and has been involved in advocacy for nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition at the federal and state level. For some of her students, learning how to work with government organizations is part of the classroom curriculum.

“If you want to advocate for more fees for the services you provide or better services for the clients you serve, you have to have an understanding of how to do advocacy and how the political process works,” Richards said.

A few women gathered in a room.  A light-skinned woman with shoulder-length hair smiles as she leans back against a row of chairs to talk to a dark-haired woman.

Dr. Riquel Richards talks to senior nutrition student.

Photo by Joey Garrison/BYU

As Richards reflects on her professional journey, she marvels at how relationships she made early in her career had significant and long-lasting effects. Laura Beth Brown, professor of nutrition and consultant, accepted the GE professorship in 2001. Richards is honored to be recognized at the same level as her role model. Getting the call from BYU, seemingly out of the blue, was the result of another past relationship, and she remembers other instances where those relationships influenced her professional life.

As an undergraduate student, Richards participated in a long-term study as part of a USDA multistate research team, along with a Ph.D. Student. Years later as a professor at BYU, a colleague recommended she join a specific research project he thought might be a good fit for her skills. When you look at the project, the same project and Ph.D. The student was now a fellow faculty member. She remembers many similar examples and believes that the Lord guided her path.

“These are not coincidences,” Richards said. “It’s not by chance that I think about the people I’ve met over the years who have returned to my life. . . It’s great to look back at those relationships at this stage and see the professional relationships that have helped me get here.

Each year, the BYU GE Professorship Award recognizes one professor who exemplifies exceptional service to GE through teaching excellence, developing a new course or program, and long-term commitment to these endeavors. Candidates are announced by their colleges each spring, and the recipient is announced each fall at the University Convocation. The professorship is for three years and includes an additional $4,000 annual stipend for research.

This article was originally posted by https://ge.byu.edu/led-by-inspiration-2023-ge-professorship-recipient-rickelle-richards

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