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Meet Trailblazer Tyler Rolling

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tyler Rolling.

Tyler, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started studying nutrition during my undergraduate at Florida State University. Growing up as a competitive synchronized swimmer, I wasn’t properly educated on how to best fuel my body and it wasn’t until college I realized that eating three honey buns and drinking soda for lunch was not the ideal meal — not just for athletes either. Instead of going the collegiate route with synchronized swimming (believe it or not, there is NCAA synchronized swimming!), I decided that I wanted to live the life of a “normal” college student. Once I realized there was a career path in nutrition working as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), I was on board! I started to become involved as much as I could on campus at FSU, since the path to becoming an RDN is extremely competitive; the more extra curricular activities involving nutrition, the better. I became vice president of the Peer Health Education group on campus known as the, “Healthy Noles” and worked as a PHE in the Health Promotion Department (now known as The Center for Health Advocacy & Wellness). I had an amazing opportunity to work with talented and passionate RDNs in the field of eating disorders, body image and intuitive eating.

During my Junior year at FSU, I decided that I wanted to pursue my Masters degree in Nutrition Science (MS) and work towards obtaining my dietetic internship (DI) and passing the RDN exam in San Diego. I’ve always been more of a “big picture” type of person, so I didn’t quite have all the details worked out, but one thing was for certain, I was moving to California to get my MS and become a dietitian.

After graduating from FSU, I drove across the country in the midst of August summer heat, in a car packed to the gills, with no air conditioning. It was quite the road trip! Before I even started classes at SDSU, I went straight to the SDSU Health Promotion Department (now known as the Well-being & Health Promotion Department), and asked if they had an RDN on staff that I could intern for and potentially work as a PHE (since I had previous experience at FSU). Unfortunately, the campus RDN had left a couple years prior. I quickly realized that SDSU didn’t have a working dietitian — they had RDNs that were part of faculty, teaching classes, but were not directly working with students on campus. A little discouraged, I decided to take a stab at the field of nutrition research. Although it was a great learning experience, my heart was not invested in working at the lab. I wanted to be working with people — not behind the scenes.

After my first semester of grad school at SDSU, I decided to apply for the dietetic internship, which as I said before, is EXTREMELY competitive (shout out to all those RDNs and future RDNs to be who know what I’m talking about!) I secured an interview at Patton State Hospital, which was one of the few paid internships, and also happened to be a forensic psychiatric hospital. It was an extensive interview process, but long story short, I got matched! In August 2014, I began my 10 month long dietetic internship at Patton State Hospital. Although challenging, it was one of the best learning experiences, as well as the most rewarding. It was during this internship that I realized I wanted to work in the field of Public Health in developing and implementing nutrition education and outreach programs. My passion was prevention, not treatment — which is a typical setting for dietitians who work within the clinical setting. Upon completing the DI, I decided to backpack Central America, where I was able to work on a local farm and travel to different parts of Costa Rica and Panama. I then returned to SDSU to complete my masters — which was atypical, considering most dietetic students either finish their masters and then apply to the DI OR apply straight to the DI out of undergraduate studies.

With a little less than two semesters left of my masters, I passed the RDN exam in the Fall of 2015. With a passion for behavioral theory and nutrition, I decided to write my manuscript on Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) and its effect on nutrition behavior within children — which has since been published with the help of my graduate school mentor, Dr. Mee Young Hong. Before graduation, I started looking for jobs and noticed that the SDSU Health Promotion Department had a position open and was hiring for May 2016. It was perfect! Considering I was graduating in May and was looking to start work right away (hello student loans!) Ironically enough, the same person I spoke to two years prior about interning with an RDN, was the same one who called me back for my interviews. Long story short, I was hired and started working as an RDN and Health Educator within the now Well-being and Health Promotion Department. I now have aspiring RDNs-to-be who intern with me and I also educate our PHEs on nutrition basics and intuitive eating principles. Talk about life coming full circle!

I’m sitting in my office writing this, as I look out my window and see the Exercise and Nutritional Sciences building (from which I graduated). It’s a constant reminder of how hard work really does pay off. I love my job and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not excited to go to work. Working on a university is inspiring. Being surrounded by students, faculty and staff who are motivated to make a difference is very energizing, and I feel as if I’m constantly learning.

And side note! I should probably add that during the first few months of moving to San Diego, I auditioned for the water entertainment company, the Aqualillies, where I currently pursue my other life passions of performing and synchronized swimming. I also have the pleasure of collaborating with local photographers creating underwater photos. You can check these out @tylerlizbeth, @aqualillies, @kcalfred and @ellegphoto.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I don’t think any road worth traveling is ever smooth. And I’m okay with that! I think attitude and expectations are the most important when it comes to pursuing your goals. I was just having this conversation with my Dad the other day…If my present (28 year old) self were to talk my younger 23 year old self, I would say, learn to adapt a growth mindset and realize that true resilience occurs when you grow and develop from life stressors. Be open and vulnerable to new experiences and see the lessons that life has to offer — even if it’s not what you expected.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Professional Synchronized Swimmer/Underwater Model – what should we know?
I wear many hats with my job! And that’s another part that I love — there’s never a dull moment! Working in the field of public health, you have to be good at rolling with the punches and last minute change of plans. My work at SDSU involves designing and implementing nutrition programming on campus, including the, “Live Well Aztecs Approved” food labeling initiative, which aims to make healthy food choices easier for students.

I also facilitate one-on-one and group nutrition education sessions, where I talk about a variety of topics including how to eat healthy on campus and how to get more nutrition for your buck. I also work alongside the Trader Joe’s on campus to provide grocery store tours for students and train our Peer Health Educators (PHEs) in nutrition basics and intuitive eating principles.

One of my proudest achievements includes writing and receiving a grant to fund, the program, “Mobi: The Mobile Demonstration Kitchen: Cooking Starts Here!” This program provides students with confidence in cooking skills in order to prepare easy, healthy meals. The program also works alongside the SDSU Associated Students Food Pantry, where students may obtain free groceries on a weekly basis and Brightside Produce, an low-cost, on-campus produce distribution company.

I’m very passionate about facilitating positive behavior change and motivating others to take charge of their health. I believe as nutrition experts and professionals, we are all working together to create an impact in the field of nutrition and dietetics — regardless of what area you work in, it is a collective effort.

What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman just starting her career?
There’s so much advice that can be given, but if I had to make it simple, I would say, work hard, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself. We are so good — especially as females — at nurturing others and being compassionate to those around us, yet, we forget to practice kindness and compassion to ourselves.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

KC Alfred, Elle G Photography

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