Make The Connection

July 26, 2021 | By Cole Hatcher

Recipes for Success

Ohio Wesleyan Seniors Teach Community About Healthy, Affordable Cooking

Ohio Wesleyan seniors Lauren Mussenden (left) and Leigh Stavar enjoy the vegetarian teriyaki burgers they make in one of their Foodie Friday videos. Both are interning with the Cooking Matters program that shows people how to make healthy meals on a budget.

Name: Lauren Mussenden ’22
Hometown: Delaware, Ohio
Major: Health and Human Kinetics with a focus on health promotion
Minors: Psychology and Nutrition

Name: Leigh Stavar ’22
Hometown: Perry, Ohio
Majors: Pre-Medicine, Nutrition
Minor: English

OWU Connection Experience: Mussenden and Stavar are completing a summer internship working with the Cooking Matters community education program under the mentorship of Elizabeth Nix, Ph.D., assistant professor of Nutrition, and Christopher Fink, Ph.D., associate professor of Health and Human Kinetics (HHK).

“Along with samples, tips, demos, and recipes at the Main Street Delaware Farmers Market and in-person classes around Delaware County,” Fink said of Mussenden and Stavar, “they are producing weekly videos called ‘Foodie Fridays’ across the OWU Nutrition TikTok, Instagram, YouTube , and Facebook platforms. … The recipes and tips are intended to provide ideas for healthy eating on a budget, as well as kitchen skills to support those ideas.”

Lessons Learned

Mussenden: “I took an HHK class with Dr. Fink back in the fall of 2019. In that class, we learned how to plan health programs and how to coach people in public health. This summer I am seeing how important it is to understand how to plan and teach people in this field.

“I have also been able to use content I’ve learned in my psychology classes to help teach and modify behaviors. For example, when teaching a Cooking Matters class, it is important to teach in ways that make sense to those who may not know much about cooking and health as a whole.

“One other thing I have found valuable in this internship is the grant-writing process. Cooking Matters is a part of the Delaware County Hunger Alliance. Dr. Fink reached out to me earlier this semester and asked if I would like to attend the meetings. He thought it would be meaningful for me to watch and experience the grant-writing process. I hope to be part of the grant-writing process next spring and gain knowledge to benefit my future career.”

Stavar: “As a kid, I spent a lot of time in and out of doctors’ offices. As a result, I am really passionate about health. After starting to learn about nutrition, I became interested in the role that our diets play in being healthy and happy.

“Cooking Matters gives me an opportunity to learn from my professors, my peers, and my community members about how to practically include more nutrient-rich and nutrient-dense foods in the diet. It has made me realize how much more complicated our food system truly is and how nutrition is more nuanced than people make it out to be.”

Favorite Moments 

Mussenden: “Dr. Fink and Dr. Nix have given me the freedom to really do anything – of course, with their permission. I have really enjoyed planning summer classes, creating TikToks and getting to bounce ideas back and forth with Leigh. I keep saying to Leigh how much I love this opportunity. This is truly a job that does not feel like a job.”

Stavar: “I have really enjoyed how much cooking I get to do on a weekly basis because of this internship. I get to find and try out new recipes all the time. … So far, my favorite recipe has been the vegetarian teriyaki burgers that Lauren and I made for a Foodie Friday video. They were absolutely delicious, and as a vegetarian, I'm always looking for new ways to make veggie burgers.”

The Power of Mentorship

Mussenden: “Dr. Fink has helped me succeed in so many ways. He has given me the opportunity to be a leader. I thrive in a setting where I can be a silent leader. I have learned a lot about myself through this internship. I have realized that I enjoy being behind the scenes of program planning. ... Dr. Fink has been an amazing advisor and really has given me so many opportunities to learn.”

Stavar: “Both Dr. Fink and Dr. Nix have allowed Lauren and me to take the reins with our internship. We were allowed to set up any community classes, use any recipes, and pursue any outside projects that we wanted. I have really enjoyed having that freedom because it allowed me to be more creative and has shown me how independent I can be in a workplace setting. I really appreciate their collective support this summer, and I cannot wait to keep working with them this coming school year.”

Why Ohio Wesleyan? 

Mussenden: “I chose OWU for a few reasons. I live right down the street from the university so I am able to live at home, which saves me a lot of money. I am also a double legacy. My parents graduated in ’90 and my aunt and uncle in ’94.

“Another reason is that I could never see myself at a big school. I wanted to be able to have one-on-one time with my professors and build meaningful relationships with them.

The list goes on and on, but the last reason I will give is that the nutrition program was just brought to OWU the year before I started at OWU. I wanted to be a part of something new and be a part of the growth.”

Stavar: “I learned about the university because I have had several family members who attended OWU including my mom ’92, my aunt ’75, and my uncle ’72. I had a pretty extensive collection of OWU gear growing up, and while they all made it very clear that where I went to college was my choice, they were all excited when I decided to commit.

“I ended up choosing OWU because I knew that I wanted to be at a small liberal arts college. I was looking for somewhere that had small class sizes so it was easier to form relationships with peers and professors. I toured several colleges in and out of Ohio that had similar campus values and cultures, but something about OWU just felt like home.”

Future Plans

Mussenden: “As of right now my plans after graduation are to find a job near or in Delaware. ... I hope to find a job related to public health and nutrition. I could also see myself working in the nonprofit field. I feel my experience with Cooking Matters has helped me become prepared for many job opportunities.”

Stavar: “I have learned that I am really passionate about not just health on an individual basis but the healthcare system as a whole. I am not entirely sure what I am planning to do in the future, but this internship has let me pursue a passion of mine that I think will serve me in the future. …

“I am most likely going to take a gap year and work for a year. By then, I will hopefully decide whether I want to go to graduate school to pursue a career in nutrition or go to medical school.”

More About Cooking Matters

On the national level, Cooking Matters is overseen by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Share Our Strength as part of the No Kid Hungry initiative. Locally, Cooking Matters is part of the Delaware County Hunger Alliance, which brings together several groups interested in addressing issues of food insecurity.