Massachusetts Daily Collegian

How UMass dining helped me get into Yale

For the love of food and photography

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

By Erica Lowenkron, Assistant Photo Editor

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When deciding which university to attend, I was not particularly drawn to any of my choices. I listed the pros and cons for each school, as any other indecisive person might do. Pros: beautiful campus, wide variety of opportunities available at a large university. Cons: three hours from home. The top of the pro list for the University of Massachusetts was the #1 dining because I love food. I really love food.

UMass dining provides students with the opportunity to try foods from many different cuisines every day. The wide variety of food available in the dining halls led me to taste everything from spinach to butternut squash and far more interesting foods like pho and curries. Unconventionally, UMass dining led me to a career in nutrition because I started recognizing how healthier foods improved my wellness. Studying nutrition involved hours learning biochemistry, anatomy, physiology and medical nutrition therapy. It has been challenging, yet very rewarding because my mission to match with the Yale New Haven Hospital Dietetic Internship program was accomplished.

What brings a nutrition major down to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian office? Is it a hunger for learning? A desire to get involved? A love for photography? Definitely a combination of all three. Photographing for the Collegian kept me on my toes as well as increased my awareness of what was happening around campus. I ran on the sidelines with football players, stood behind the Plexiglas at hockey games, rallied with student activist groups and gave underrepresented populations the proper coverage they deserve.

During my sophomore year at UMass, I took a class called Social Diversity in Education. We learned about disparities around the country, and this was the first time I started to think more critically about how our society is run. I gravitated toward photographing people and events that reflected the diversity at UMass to feature them in the paper.

Becoming more involved with the Collegian was another way to put myself in uncomfortable situations, which made me a better photojournalist and student. Researching events on campus to cover for a feature photo for the last five semesters has challenged me to open myself to new ideas and experiences. Asking for strangers’ names while photographing protests, cultural nights, hackathons, concerts and more was awkward at times, but it forced me out of my shell.

Finding a feature photo was the bane of desk nights when nothing photo-worthy was happening around campus. There were lucky coincidences of stumbling upon random events or people doing cool things, like someone practicing poi—think of spinning two light up yoyos, creating trails of light—in the rain at 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Some weeks were harder than others, but venturing out during stressful times was a form of relief.

Besides being a platform to improve my photography and meet my step goal by running around campus to cover events, the Collegian introduced me to amazing people. I met some of my best friends in the Collegian office.

Six photographers and one managing editor came together on a Thursday night almost two years ago to make cannolis and play Family Feud in a suite in Birch Hall. Since then, this group of girls has become “my people.” I must thank the Collegian for these sweet, funny, intelligent and compassionate women; they helped make my college years so delightful.

The days walking to campus, using dining dollars, studying in Lederle Graduate Research Center and randomly finding friends are limited. As my time in Amherst comes to an end, my appreciation for UMass and the Pioneer Valley continues to grow. I already miss admiring the mountains in the distance and being surrounded by trees as well as other college students. Little moments like these made the last four years so lovely.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the progress I’ve made throughout these four years of college. I’ve learned about how to become a registered dietitian and how to live a balanced life. Working with the Collegian helped me balance the stressful workload along with the fun of taking pictures and meeting different people. Along with other opportunities, I am thankful for how the Collegian transformed me from an undecided, nervous, picky-eating freshman to a more confident, adventurous woman ready to accept the challenges of the Yale New Haven Hospital Dietetic Internship.

Thank you, Daily Collegian for keeping me informed and opening my eyes wider!

And thank you, UMass dining for Maple Valley ice cream sundaes, loaded waffle fries at late night and my future career in nutrition!

Erica Lowenkron was an assistant photo editor and can be reached at [email protected]

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