Feeling ‘Lost’ After Undergrad, Master’s Student Discovers Passion for Nutrition at USC Leonard Davis

“Now, I feel like I’m on the right direction,” student Shauna Davis says of the online Master of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity program.

While many students apply to graduate school with a clear idea of what they want to accomplish with their degree, plenty of others enter master’s programs hoping it will illuminate a new career path.

In fact, some people enroll in a program dead set on one track before realizing their heart is actually invested in an entirely different field.

One such student is Shauna Davis, who is focused on obtaining her Master of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity (MSNHL) at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. For Davis, a former art student who lives in Las Vegas, the program has revealed a whole new world of possibilities.

“I got my BA in graphic design and art history. I was going to take a year off and then go back and get my master’s, but I never did,” Davis explained to USC Online.

After transitioning to the hospitality industry for six years, Davis realized it was time to make a change — that is when she came across the online MS in Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity.

The MSNHL program is catered to students who are interested in advancing human health and well-being through the field of nutrition and dietetics. Upon completing the program, graduates are eligible to take the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential exam, and a majority go on to become clinical dietitians.

Still, there are a plethora of career options available to students, including opening a private practice or working at a hospital or school. Others have even carved out positions in media, policy and scientific research.

The MSNHL is a small, competitive program that only accepts about 22 to 24 students a year, and courses include “Food Production and Food Service Management, “Advanced Therapeutic Nutrition” and more.

So how did Davis, who has no background in nutrition, know that the MSNHL program was the right fit for her?

“Upon finding this program, I just kind of knew … While it’s fairly new, it had really high ratings, and every [graduate] that I spoke with was essentially in love with the program, the professors, the school and so on,” she explained. “So, I put all my eggs in one basket and didn’t apply anywhere else just because I loved the whole idea of this.”

Graduate school could not have come at a better time for Davis, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread layoffs and restaurant closures across the hospitality industry. Luckily, Davis had her studies to keep her occupied.

“I hadn’t been in school for 10 years or so, and going into a master’s program was very intense … Everything was so new to me, all this science, but I love my classes. It’s all so interesting,” she said.

A typical day for Davis now includes waking up early, attending her classes and then studying or completing assignments. While Davis finds herself quite busy with coursework (even on her days off), she relishes the challenges and knowledge she’s gaining.

“I really love the classes and my professors. I really feel like I’m learning so much … I’ve already made some good friends that I’ve never even met in person. The connections so far may be most valuable to me. It’s just been such a wonderful experience,” she enthused.

Davis highlighted one class in particular, taught by MSNHL Program Director Cary Kreutzer, as a favorite.

“She’s so accessible and willing to share her knowledge. You’re encouraged to reach out whenever you need anything, and she will always be there for you,” she said.

What’s next for Davis after graduation?

Although she’s still narrowing down her career choices, Davis has discovered a newfound passion for oncological as well as maternal nutrition. An avid cook, she is also considering starting a blog to share her recipes and at-home meals.

“One of the reasons I picked the MSNHL program specifically was because I felt like I was still a little lost. Now, I feel like I’m on the right direction,” she said.

Davis does, however, have specific advice for prospective graduate students: Ask questions.

“I don’t know that you could ever prepare fully for the grad school experience … [but] asking as many questions as you can and getting as much information at every step of the way is really helpful,” she advised. “My other recommendation would be, you need to be a little fluid and allow things to change and be OK with that because things will not be exactly what you expect.”

Learn more about the online Master of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity program today.