Meet Sylara Marie Cruz, N23

School: Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Degree: Master of Nutrition Science and Policy

Home: Georgia. It’s where I grew up, and there are such beautiful communities in Atlanta, along with interesting work and research—and great food!

Why was this the degree for you?

Before I attended Friedman, I was doing policy research at the National Academies in D.C. I worked on the Food Forum within the Food and Nutrition Board. We convened experts from the food industry—representatives from Coke, Pepsi, and General Mills, for example—and federal agencies in the food policy arena, like the USDA and FDA. I found the work I was doing and the nuanced conversations I was having deeply interesting, and I found myself wanting to pursue further study. Through my degree, I was able to interact directly with the experts and researchers whose publications I had been reading in D.C. It was exhilarating and an invaluable learning opportunity.

What’s the single most important thing you learned during your time at Friedman?

How important effective communication is. When I was in D.C., I was working on publications whose main audience was people who were already working in the field, so I was used to interfacing with experts. But a lot of the work and research I collaborated on at Friedman was fairly public-facing—whether we liked it or not. I had to learn the difference between writing for an audience of experts and writing for more of a lay audience. Phrases with connotation or nuance that I was used to, like “food is medicine” or “sustainable diets” mean something different for people who aren’t necessarily steeped in nutrition policy and research. I had to learn how to define terms succinctly and use illustrative examples that are nuanced but not too niche. I came to understand how important it is to make research accessible and understandable to the public, even if they are not our work's intended audience.

What’s a good adjective to describe you?

Energized! When I first entered the world of nutrition policy research, it felt like a small world made up of a few experts. But I think that’s changing and expanding, and I’m excited about that. Recently, the White House convened a conference that focused on nutrition and food policy and research, and funders are investing more money in the field, so there’s more attention on it. I’m looking forward to all the emerging research, innovation, and discovery.

Complete the following sentence: “In ten years, I will be…”

Continuing to work in nutrition policy and research—I hope!

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