Nursing Student Named one of 40 Paul Ambrose Scholars

June 5 2007

An Indiana State University graduate student who developed a school-based healthy eating program to combat the growing problem of obesity will take part in a national symposium this month in Washington, D.C.

Jacqueline Lessard, a school nurse in her hometown of Fitchburg, Mass., is one of 40 scholars in the country scheduled to participate in this year’s Paul Ambrose Scholars Program June 21-24. The program is a collaborative initiative between the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Lessard is earning her master’s degree in nursing from Indiana State via distance education in not one, but two specializations - adult health and nursing education.

She applied for the program with encouragement from nursing professor Mary Bennett. It was not an easy process.

“Application completion was a bit of a challenge because of the logistics involved with me not being on campus. Associate nursing professor Veda Gregory had to act as a courier for signatures since I was required to send originals to the selection committee,” Lessard said. “When you live thousands of miles from campus you tend to rely on faxes and email. Originals made this effort a little complicated. I appreciate the extra effort by the College of Nursing,” she added.

The hard work paid off when Lessard learned in mid-May she had been selected to attend the prestigious program.

“I was shocked when I received by notification,” she said. “I thought I had a good idea but knew this was a very competitive program promoted at major medical schools across the country.”

The program was created in honor of Paul Ambrose, MD, a rising star in preventive medicine who died in the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

In addition to attending sessions addressing a wide range of topics, attendees will conduct a mentored prevention education project in their hometown.

Lessard’s project, "Reach for the Stars," has two goals. It is a primary prevention effort that identifies the lowest fat entrée choice in school lunches. By using stars as visual cues, it also helps to remind students to eat from the four food groups.

“If a student chooses a food from each of four starred areas, they are choosing the healthiest meal being offered at school that day,” Lessard said.

The program seeks to enhance nutrition education efforts by giving students the means to make healthy food choices and hopefully, to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Lessard developed the program after noticing students choosing high-fat lunches while ignoring fruits and vegetables.

“I see first hand how taxing it is for overweight students to climb stairs or participate in gym,” she said. “It has become critical to me to work with parents, students, and educators to make health a priority and to work toward spiraling it throughout the curriculum.”

"Reach for the Stars" attracted the attention of the local school district food service manager and is planned for a city-wide launch this fall. Lessard, who has worked the past five years at B.F. Brown Middle School in Fitchburg, will work to expand the project, with guidance from Gregory, her mentor.

“Addressing obesity is the number one priority area in Healthy People 2010 objectives, School Nursing Research, and among health agencies in my home state of Massachusetts. This generation of teens is the first generation to have a predicted shortened lifespan directly related to obesity,” she said.

Lessard, who served as a teaching assistant to Bennett this past semester, became interested in obesity while taking Bonnie Saucier’s health perspectives class at Indiana State.

“It was in that class that I learned about the root of obesity, studying sedentary lifestyles and public policy that I became interested in teen obesity,” she added.

She credits the ISU College of Nursing with her success.

“The relevant projects in graduate classes, the willingness of professors to recognize, embrace, and offer a distance ed student a campus opportunity, and the commitment of professors to know and support distance students shows how Indiana State’s College of Nursing differs from other online programs,” she added.

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Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, (812) 237-3783 or pmeyer4@isugw.indstate.edu

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An Indiana State University graduate student who developed a school-based healthy eating program to combat the growing problem of obesity will take part in a national symposium this month in Washington, D.C.

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