Doctoral Student Studies Effects of COVID-19 on School Meal Programs

Kritika Gutpa to present TEDx talk at March 9 event

Kritika Gupta, a second-year doctoral student in the UM nutrition and hospitality management program, will discuss her research on the affects of COVID on school meal programs at the TEDxUniversityofMississippi event, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday (March 9) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Kritika Gupta first learned about the potential of nutrition when she began studying nutrition and dietetics for her undergraduate degree in Ludhiana, India.

A second-year doctoral student in the nutrition and hospitality management program at the University of Mississippi, Gupta is using her knowledge in community nutrition to explore resilience in school meal programs during the COVID-19 pandemic for her dissertation.

“One of the basic needs of life is food,” said Gupta, a native of Kapurthala, India. “I believe that the field of nutrition allows me to juggle roles as a leader, advocate and therapist.”

Gupta has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nutrition and dietetics from Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, India, and Lovely Professional University in Phagwara, respectively. While finishing her master’s degree, Gupta began researching different doctoral programs that would allow her to further her knowledge and research goals in community nutrition.

“I have always been interested in community nutrition, and I began reaching out to prospective mentors to see if they had a Ph.D. position available,” Gupta said. “When I chatted more with Dr. (Georgianna) Mann about her research and read the online coverage of the work she had done in the past, I knew I had reached out to the right person.

“Of course, this would not have been possible without the constant support and guidance I received from my mentors during my graduate and undergraduate degrees in India.”

Gutpa’s research interests include child nutrition, school wellness policies, science communication and mental health. She will discuss her dissertation research at the TEDxUniversityofMississippi event, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday (March 9) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Her TEDx talk will highlight that the pandemic has reemphasized an existing need for building hunger-resilient communities.

Gupta’s other research projects include exploring perceptions of university faculty and staff about their cooking and dietary habits, and the impact of service-learning projects and multidisciplinary education on students’ overall development.

“Kritika joined my lab in fall 2019, and she has been one of the most eager, hard-working students I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Georgianna Mann, Gupta’s mentor and assistant professor of nutrition and hospitality management. “She will not let a single opportunity pass her by.

“I briefly mentioned that joining the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior would be advantageous, and she quickly became chair-elect of the student division.”

After earning her doctorate, Gupta hopes to continue her research in nutrition and teach at a research-oriented university. Until then, she plans to continue her research and education at Ole Miss, where she is on track to graduate in 2023.

“As an international student, I had my insecurities (about coming to UM) in the beginning,” Gupta said. “However, this department has never made me feel out-of-home and has given me fair and equal opportunities.

“If you invest the right kind of energy, hard work and dedication, results are guaranteed.”

The doctoral degree program in nutrition and hospitality management in the UM School of Applied Sciences is designed to train and mentor students to become proficient teachers and researchers. The program has emphasis areas in both nutrition and hospitality management.

“Kritika is proof that hard work, diligence and a hunger to learn are the secrets to graduate school success,” Mann said. “She is always looking to expand her knowledge and utilize her research potential.”