How a botany class led to a nutrition major

One UVM professor is no stranger to the feeling of uncertainty, which she experienced  during her undergraduate career and led her to where she is today.

Professor of nutrition and food science Jean Harvey originally began studying biology at Pennsylvania State University, but said  she hated the major due to the amounts of calculus and physics courses in her schedule.

“Then I wound up in the course that killed it all, which was a botany class, drawing flowers and memorizing parts of plants and I thought I would never make it,” she said. “I knew I needed to do something different,” Harvey said.

Jean Harvey pictured PHOTO BY RYAN THORTON
Jean Harvey pictured PHOTO BY RYAN THORTON

Harvey changed her major in the middle of her junior year. “I was flipping through [the course catalogue] one night looking at all these different things you could major in and I went, ‘Nutrition! I had no idea you could major in nutrition,’” she said.

Since Harvey changed her major to nutrition so late in her academic career, she said she decided to pursue a master’s degree to spend time figuring out what she liked in her newfound field.

Her studies eventually led her to become a registered dietitian and to work in public health, but her interests began shifting, she said. “At the time, I was in public health and I think I thought I wanted to stay there,” Harvey said.

But instead, Harvey said she decided to pursue her Ph.D. in epidemiology to answer questions she still had in her field.

Harvey’s passion for her work has ignited inspiration in her students, like senior Cara D’Anello. “Jean is so knowledgeable and takes her teaching to a more personal level,”  D’Anello said. “Her work and interest in public health nutrition has inspired me to take a similar direction towards public health after graduation,” she said.

These days, Harvey continues to stay active not only in her field, but in life. 

When not running, swimming, biking, skiing or kayaking, Harvey is performing her duties as chair of the nutrition and food science department. Harvey also teaches a spring semester study abroad course in Oaxaca, Mexico and is completing work in behavioral weight control and lifestyle modification.

Harvey’s work is focused on the concept of “eat less and move more.”

“The message is very simple, but how people actually wind up figuring how to do it in their life is really what we work on,” she said.

Jean Harvey pictured PHOTO BY RYAN THORTON
Jean Harvey pictured PHOTO BY RYAN THORTON

To help people live out her motto of “eat less and move more,” Harvey has done research in and developed weight management programs to help people lose weight and lead healthier lives.

Her hope is to provide many people with access to such programs.

“My challenge to overcome has always been this idea that only very few people get access to these high-quality treatment programs,” Harvey said. This is why she has done much work online to make her programs accessible to a larger population. 

Harvey’s dedication and passion for her work seems to be evident to many of her students. “Not only is the material that she teaches incredibly important for bringing health awareness to the public and academic eye but, she is generally passionate about the subjects she teaches,” senior Shawn Roberts said.

Jean Harvey pictured PHOTO BY RYAN THORTON
Jean Harvey pictured PHOTO BY RYAN THORTON

As a mother, wife and woman in leadership roles, Harvey has faced challenges maintaining the balance between work and family life throughout her professional career.  

“I won’t deny that it is an enormous struggle when you’re working full-time and you have children. It was my second shift,” Harvey said.

However she said she has the supportive environment of working at an institution that is family oriented.

“If you’re in a leadership position anywhere else but the University of Vermont, which is family focused and family-friendly, you have to stay until 9, 10 o’clock at night and you have to travel a lot,” Harvey said.

“I don’t know how you balance all that. I don’t believe you can always have it all, I don’t think it’s possible in a lot of circumstances,” Harvey said.