Karen Lacey jokes she wrote herself into a job.
In the early 1990s, Lacey, a dietician and adjunct faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, approached the university with an idea to create an office to coordinate internships for its dietetic students — a requirement to become a registered dietician. The move would benefit current students and attract more students to the program.
“I was asked to create a proposal, which I did, and then they needed someone to run the program. I created my own job,” said Lacey, who also taught at Bellin College and earned her master’s degree from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee before becoming full-time at the university.
“That first year — 1994 — we were able to place four interns and we’ve grown from there.”
Today, the program places up to 22 interns annually. Dieticians work in a number of places, including hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, cafeterias, and for state and local governments. “In the beginning, I went around meeting with places who could benefit from having an intern. It was a lot of education and raising awareness,” said Lacey, who later also became the director of UW-Green Bay’s undergraduate dietetics program.
Rebecca Vanden Langenberg, who is majoring in human biology with an emphasis on nutritional science and dietetics, said having the internship opportunity was one of the reasons she chose UW-Green Bay.
“I felt it was very important for that internship to be available at UW-Green Bay since it makes it a more cohesive, complete program,” she said.
“I live in Green Bay and knowing I could have my internship here made a difference.”
When she started at UW-Green Bay, assistant professor Deb Pearson said there were limited internship possibilities available. The internship includes 32 hours of weekly supervised practice experiences and seven hours of dietetics instruction and program management held on Fridays. The program lasts 37 weeks.
“When the program first started, there were a handful of internships available and now we have 18 to 22 internships. We worked hard at it,” she said.
“The undergrad dietetics program has nearly doubled because we have that internship program and as people get older, there’s more work involving diet and nutrition.”
In addition to completing the internship, dieticians will soon need to earn a master’s degree before they are eligible to take the registered dietician exam. Active in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for more than 50 years, Lacey played a role in that rule change and then helped Pearson to write a proposal to create the master’s program in nutrition science and integrated health at UW-Green Bay.
“Karen was truly a mentor. For many years, it was just the two of us running the program. We both loved it and Karen has done a great job encouraging students,” she said.
The master’s program will be fully operational this fall and Lacey decided to support the program by creating the James V. and Karen A. Lacey Scholarship for Nutrition and Dietetics.
“It’s amazing how much Karen has given to this program,” Pearson said.