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The nutrition science curriculum will be modeled after those of the top ten nutrition science majors. 

Credit: Idil Demirdag

Next September, the School of Nursing and the College of Arts and Sciences will be launching a new cross-school major: nutrition science.

Students have been asking for a nutrition science major for years, but the subject area has nonetheless been limited to a minor — until now. Due to the success of the nutrition minor and the now-sufficient number of faculty with expertise in nutrition science, undergraduate students will finally be able to add nutrition science as a second major to their primary majors this coming school year.

“The idea of this major has been percolating for the entire 15 years I’ve been here,” said Charlene Compher, professor of Nutrition Science at the School of Nursing and faculty director of Nutrition Programs. “Students have brought it forward to [the Nutrition Science Department] every year, and it’s taken awhile to have enough faculty here to teach the courses and enough interest at the level of administration to put it forward as a formal proposal.”

The formal proposal for the nutrition science major was approved by the faculty of the School of Nursing in September 2015 and by the School of Arts and Sciences in December 2015. Since then, Compher and Bart De Jonghe, assistant professor of Nutrition Science and associate director of Nutrition Programs, have been working on coursework for the program.

“We looked at the top 10 nutrition majors worldwide and modeled the plan of courses after that,” De Jonghe said. “The great thing about Penn is that [in] the [College] of Arts and Sciences and the School of Nursing, we largely already had all the classes in place to create the major; there’s really only been one new course we’ve had to create to be competitive with other programs.”

The Nutrition Science faculty have also been working to spread word to students. They have already held two information sessions going in detail about program and course requirements for the new major, and there will be two more on Feb. 18 at 5:00 p.m., and on Feb. 24 at 5:00 p.m., in Fagin Hall, Room 300.

The nutrition science major will be offered only as a second major because it is a new program and many of the major’s course requirements can be double counted with general requirements or course requirements for other majors, like the biological basis of behavior or biology. Therefore, sophomores or juniors will be able to add the nutrition science major if they have fulfilled course requirements for other science majors.

“It’s a more pragmatic way to actually graduate with two majors with a reasonable timeline,” De Jonghe said. “If you’re a junior, you’re just learning about this, and if you are pre-med or [majoring in] biology or chemistry, chances are good that you’re still going to be able to do this with some planning.”

This new joint-major in nutrition science can especially offer benefits to students who want to pursue further studies in nutrition science, medicine or nursing.

Compher said that a student who only has a minor in nutrition science would have to do a post-baccalaureate program to get into a graduate program for nutrition science, but a student with a major in nutrition science could skip the post-baccalaureate window.

For pre-med students, Compher said that because “students will get very little nutrition content during their medical school time or their pharmacy school time,” learning about nutrition in detail as undergraduates could be a “distinctive characteristic that sets them ahead of other student applicants.”

De Jonghe said that the nutrition major would be helpful for Nursing students because it would allow them to “[look] at potential future patients in a much [broader] and holistic view” because they would have the “strengths of the nursing major as well as the nutrition major.”

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