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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 2, 2016) — On most days, it’s a job that starts in the early morning and ends late into the evening.
"It’s really fun to work here," said Fowler. "I just really enjoy working with all of the athletes … I feel like they’re all my kids!"
We recently chatted with Fowler about what her job is like and how the University of Kentucky impacted her career.
UK: What is the typical day like in your position?
Monica Fowler: There is no typical day. Some days I am sitting in meetings, some days I get to spend more time with the athletes. I think the most typical thing about any job in athletics is that it starts early in the morning and often goes well into the evening. The athletes are students and are busy during the day with classes and tutors so our work with them is often before and after their student activities.
UK: We hear this wasn’t your original career. What made you switch directions to go into this field?
Fowler: I’m not really sure. I had raised my children and retired from my first job and decided to go back to school and finish my degree in dietetics. I always thought that I would be working with underserved populations and dealing with food insecurity issues. I thought this was a great opportunity though so I thought I would give it a try, I ended up really loving working with the athletes. They have a lot of unique issues and it keeps me on my toes.
UK: How did you go from being a UK graduate to your current position?
Fowler: After I graduated I was working as a part-time advisor for the dietetics and human nutrition department. UK Athletics had called the DHN department and said they were looking for someone to work part time with the athletes. Dr. Hazel Forsythe encouraged me to go talk to them. They offered to make me a graduate assistant, and I was interested in getting my master's so I took the position. After two years the position had grown enough that the Athletic Department needed me to become full time.
What is the best part of your job?
Fowler: Getting to get to know the athletes, getting to sit down with them at dinner and hear about their days … I have really enjoyed learning about all the different backgrounds our athletes come from. Watching them mature from their freshmen year and then graduate is really rewarding.
UK: What is the most challenging aspect of your position?
Fowler: The most challenging aspect has to be making athletes that have already made it to a Division I school on incredible talent and hard work, understand that optimizing what they eat can give them an edge. Small edges can add up to an advantage. When one tries to change a habit it can be incredibly difficult. Imagine a golfer trying to change her swing. She won’t be perfect at it all at once. College athletes have been developing their food habits and preferences for 18 years by the time they come to college. If they have earned a scholarship and are already competing at a high level it is easy to understand why they would not want to change, or why it would be hard to change. Convincing them that what they do out of the arena (sleep, hydration, nutrition) directly affects what happens in the arena can be a challenge. Eating one healthy meal does not automatically translate into a great performance the next day. It requires a sustained effort to create a new habit and see the results.
UK: What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
Fowler: Everyone has a very distinct food culture that they come from. My mom grew up on a farm so I was accustomed to eating vegetables based on the when they were in season. My summers were spent helping my mom and my aunts can and freeze food for the winter. It is easy to think that your experience is typical when really everyone’s experience is unique. One of my athletes told me that he had never tasted blueberries or raspberries because he came from a family that had limited resources for purchasing food. Berries are an expensive fruit so he had never been exposed to tasting them. His knowledge of blueberry and raspberry flavor came from candy so the real thing tasted tart to him rather than sweet. Learning to meet the athletes where they are with their food preferences and trying to get them to eat better — even just a little — is the most fulfilling part. I can’t often get them to eat exactly what I would like them to eat, but I can help them eat better.
UK: How did UK prepare you for your career?
Fowler: The dietetic department at UK gave me a great background in basic nutrition and medical nutrition therapy. They provided a great foundation and instilled a love of learning. They also taught me to critically digest the research to create best practices for the athletes.
UK: What is your favorite UK memory?
Fowler: I grew up in Leitchfield, Kentucky. It is about two hours from Lexington. I was in high school in 1978 when UK beat Duke and won the NCAA championship. When they won my dad piled my sister, Paige, and I into the car and drove us to Lexington to meet the team when they landed at the airport. Jack “Goose” Given was named Most Outstanding Player. At the airport someone had taken a sheet and painted a sign that said “We Goosed Duke.” The team stood on the second floor landing and threw down little pieces of the net. It was pretty cool. My dad was a HUGE UK fan when he was alive. If he were still here today I have no doubt he would be camping outside my office for Big Blue Madness tickets.
UK: What is the best piece of advice you would give to current UK students?
Fowler: Gather volunteer experience with all different types of dietitians. All experience is important. The clinical experience I had during my dietetic internship has been invaluable at the athletic department. Embrace learning. Every aspect of the curriculum in the DHN department is there because dietitians’ jobs are in many different areas of business. You may not land your dream job right out of college, but you should embrace any opportunity to add to your knowledge. You never know when you will need it again.
Watch the video above to discover how UK helped prepare Monica Fowler for a job she looks forward to doing each and every day.
This video is part of a new bi-monthly UKNow series. We want to tell “see blue.” stories about our alumni to show how the University of Kentucky prepares students to succeed after graduation. If you know of any UK alumni who should be featured, please email us. We might choose your suggestion for our next “see blue.” alumni story on UKNow.
UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue