Taking on rural health. This Tiger recently received a grant from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) to work toward minimizing adult obesity in South Carolina. She works with extension agents of the Rural Health and Nutrition Extension program, which seeks to teach individuals in rural counties about healthy lifestyle choices.

Meet Michelle Parisi.

Title: Director of health and nutrition extension programs and team leader for the Rural Health and Nutrition Extension program team.

Years at Clemson: Three-and-a-half years

What I do at Clemson: I manage and support extension agents who deliver health and nutrition programs to low-resource adults and children. I also conduct applied health and nutrition research in community settings and mentor students in hands-on community health and nutrition experiences.

Sarah Griffin, associate professor of public health sciences, and I recently received a CDC grant for a project in which we will be implementing and evaluating the South Carolina County Health Extension High Obesity Prevention and Elimination initiative in three counties with adult obesity rates over forty percent.

We will create multidisciplinary extension teams in each county, which will lead efforts to combat obesity and we will collaborate with county government and health coalitions to identify and implement strategies for increasing access to healthy foods and safe places for physical activity. We will also connect local farmers to vendors to facilitate farm-to-vendor contracts and will also work to motivate citizens to utilize physical activity resources.

My specific role in this research is setting up the multidisciplinary extension teams and other program leaders to identify appropriate roles and activities for the agents serving on the teams.

This work is very important because South Carolina has the 12th highest rate of obesity in the nation, with 32.3 percent of adults classified as obese. Our hope is to decrease the rate of obesity and ultimately prevent the development of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

What I love about Clemson: I love the people I get to work with at Clemson. I feel like I learn something new from my coworkers every single day. My director is very supportive and there are some faculty members here who have been instrumental in helping me find my way in academics. A piece of advice a colleague gave me was to find something that no one else is doing and fill in the gap. It sounds simple, but finding that thing can be a challenge. Facilitating the extension program’s delivery of health and nutrition programming has become my thing and the people who I get to work with to accomplish that are what I love most about Clemson.

My defining moment at Clemson: I once went along on a visit with an agent to a home in a very rural county of South Carolina. The agent began teaching and this tiny little girl crawled into my lap and started watching her mom learning how to cut up cabbage on a plastic plate with a dull, bent butter knife (we teach participants to use the tools that they have at hand). I realized that this was one of the first times the little girl had seen her mother cook and she was fascinated. She even bravely took a bite of the cooked cabbage when it was done. It was really moving to know that because of our program, that baby would get many more wholesome meals into her little belly with a mom who felt empowered to provide them. I was truly honored to have been accepted into this woman’s home and felt determined to get this and other programs like it to the people in South Carolina who need it most. On even the most stressful work days, remembering that little girl keeps me focused on why I do what I do.

Accomplishment I’m most proud of: I think it would have to be when I came back to work after a three-year hiatus. I took a new path and went from being a clinical dietitian working in a hospital to teaching in a large lecture hall in front of more than 100 students. I was terrified, but I overcame my anxiety and bravely went up to the front of the room and started teaching. Now I love getting in front of a classroom of college students because they inspire me.

Where I see myself in five years: I see myself finishing up our five-year CDC project while helping a lot of people, collecting a lot of outcome indicators and reporting great results from our initiative. And then I see myself doing it all over again.

Last thing I watched on TV: I recently finished an Ozark binge, but I still don’t really get that money laundering thing.

Guilty pleasure: Watching my kids in their respective activities is what I love to do the most. I get so much joy out of watching them succeed. I’m their biggest fan.

One thing most people don’t know about me: When I was a kid I had a secret desire to be a rock star. Or maybe that was last year?

Related:
Farm to table: Meet 5 Tigers who are working to eliminate hunger, malnutrition and obesity

CDC grant supports Clemson program to address obesity epidemic


Want to nominate a colleague to be featured in Meet a Tiger? Contact Jackie Todd at
jtodd3@clemson.edu.

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