Meet Jenna Bottiglieri, who graduated from Rowan with a degree in Exercise Science and is now pursuing her master’s degree in Wellness and Lifestyle Management through Rowan Global. Learn more about Jenna and how her work with two health research and grant programs helped her zero in on her career goals.
Seeing a new installation of wheelchair-accessible raised beds for the first time while visiting the Williamstown Organic Community Garden, Jenna Bottiglieri witnessed part of her research come to fruition.
Jenna, a student in the M.A. in Wellness and Lifestyle Management program, serves as project coordinator for Inclusive Healthy Communities, a grant-funded initiative that works with South Jersey towns on projects that make spaces more welcoming for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
She also coordinates the Shop Fresh Foods Rx program, a research study combining nutrition outreach and education for South Jersey residents who are pre-diabetic and food insecure.
Jenna’s work on these research projects has altered her academic career trajectory; she now wants to pursue another advanced degree in public health policy either at the master’s or doctoral level.
“I think that it’s so interesting being involved in research. And that’s definitely something I would like to continue, in my next degree, and after that, and actually, in my career … continuing some kind of research,” Jenna says.
A chance discussion set Jenna on a continued path at Rowan in graduate studies and sparked her passion for health research. As an undergraduate Exercise Science major, Jenna headed into her last two semesters unsure of where to go next. One of the highlights of her college career had been volunteering and then working for Get FIT, a Rowan fitness and nutrition program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
She describes the program as “fitness oriented but also very socially oriented.” Rowan students and volunteer staff work one-on-one with each client. “They’re able to exercise together, they talk together. And it’s really just a great program for everyone,” she says.
Jenna worked all the way up to program coordinator for Get FIT, run by Dr. Leslie Spencer, professor of Health Promotion and Wellness Management. She and Jenna were to conduct a study on the social impact of Get FIT on clients and caregivers before the Covid-19 pandemic paused both their research and the in-person client sessions. At the height of the pandemic, Jenna then organized a virtual Get FIT program.
When Jenna shared her uncertainty about her future with Dr. Spencer, the professor suggested Jenna look into the Wellness and Lifestyle Management master’s program through Rowan Global. Here, Jenna says she could expand her health and wellness knowledge beyond the anatomy and kinesiology-based training she received as an undergraduate. She also appreciated the online format that allows her to craft a flexible schedule around her research.
“That was really helpful, because I wasn’t really ready for that commitment of going back onto campus right after I graduated. So this ended up being perfect from not only just the criteria that I’m learning in the curriculum, but also the structure of the courses definitely just aligned with my schedule,” Jenna says.
She now works with Dr. Spencer on the Inclusive Healthy Communities project, a grant from the Division of Disability Services, NJ Department of Human Services. Jenna explains the university’s work has three main components. A Rowan team, working with master gardeners, has partnered with seven area community gardens, reviewing each and making changes such as reducing sensory stimuli, adding Braille and images to signage and designing paths and beds that are more accessible.
Jenna says the second and third parts of the project include a collaboration with five area group homes; the Rowan team has subcontracted area master gardeners to build garden spaces and organized cooking classes for its residents.
“The goal is to hopefully use what they grow in the garden,” Jenna adds.
Her work with Dr. Nicole Vaughn, assistant professor of Community Health, on the Shop Fresh Foods Rx program analyzes data collected throughout a four-month period with 20 participants, whom Jenna recruited throughout South Jersey. Participants receive groceries and dietician-created recipes, then attend sessions on food, fitness, nutrition and managing stress. For the last four weeks of the program, Jenna says participants will shop for their own healthy groceries using the skills they learned from the program.
“The goal is to see if this lifestyle change will prevent their onset of type 2 diabetes,” she explains.
Jenna speaks highly of her faculty, recalling: “My friend Brianna … we work together in Dr. Vaughn’s lab, and we met working together on Shop Fresh Foods Rx. We had been discussing a topic like nutrition knowledge and social media, because we go on social media, [and] there’s so many things that are just not true. And we actually ended up presenting this to two professors in our department (Dr. Dara LoBuono and Dr. Dylan Klein).
“And they were extremely happy to hear us out there even though it sounded very ambitious, they were all very supportive. The professors are so helpful at Rowan, they really want you to succeed and get involved within the research.”
She adds, “I just wish other students would get involved in research because it really is a really great experience, especially at Rowan. There’s so many opportunities.”
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