Faculty and staff in Dietetics and Human Nutrition encourage students to become involved in undergraduate research and appreciate the support of undergraduate students in many of their research projects. If you are interested in working with a faculty mentor in DHN who has available research opportunities, please send an email to the faculty member for additional information. In some cases, students may earn research course credit (1-3 credit hours) for DHN 591: Special Topics in Dietetics and Human Nutrition. For more information about undergraduate research, how to get involved, and potential sources of funding, visit the University of Kentucky Office of Undergraduate Research

Research Opportunities in Dietetics and Human Nutrition 


Makenzie Barr, PhD, RD

About Dr. Barr’s Research: My research focuses largely on two populations (1) bariatric surgery populations in Appalachia to provide support for individuals post-operatively such as dietary and mental health and (2) young adult populations/college students and knowledge on chronic disease prevention and cancer screening.

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include body composition testing, focus group note taking, writing literature reviews, data entry and data cleaning.

Top Qualities Dr. Barr Looks for in Student Researchers: Critical thinker, motivated and collaborative

Fall 2019: 1 spot available

Spring 2020: 3 of 3 spots available

Summer 2020: May have summer spots available, TBD


Dawn Brewer, PhD RD LD    

About Dr. Brewer’s Research: The purpose of my research is to encourage people to increase the quantity and variety of fruit and vegetable consumption. I work with community leaders to develop community nutrition education programs that in some cases provide community members with access to fruits and vegetables. I also develop Cooperative Extension education materials that teach people how to protect their health from environmental pollutants by eating healthy. More information about current projects can be found here by scrolling down to the "activities" section of the Superfund Research Center website

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include developing nutrition education materials, traveling to Eastern KY to collect anthropometric data, data entry and cleaning, and helping deliver nutrition lessons.

Top Qualities Dr. Brewer Looks for in Student Researchers: dependable, good with people, good writing skills, can research literature on various topics and pays attention to detail even during monotonous tasks

Fall 2019: At mentoring capacity for this semester

Spring 2020: At mentoring capacity for this semester

Summer 2020: May have summer spots available, TBD


Kyle Flack, PhD, RD 

About Dr. Flack’s Research: My research focuses on improving weight loss and weight loss maintenance. I have a background in exercise science and a lot of my work is looking at how exercise can influence eating behaviors and be better used for weight loss, focusing on skeletal muscle metabolism and the neuroscience of eating.

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include working with human volunteers to test body composition, metabolic rate, exercise capacity and other clinical tests related to health and obesity.

Top Qualities Dr. Flack Looks for in Student Researchers: Eager to learn, good interpersonal skills and reliable

Fall 2019: At mentoring capacity for this semester 

Spring 2020: 1 of 3 spots available

Summer 2020: May have summer spots available, TBD 


Courtney Luecking, PhD, MPH, RDN

About Dr. Luecking’s Research: Early care and education (ECE) settings, like preschools and daycares, are an important target for improving young children’s eating and physical activity behaviors. However, ECE settings have been slow to adopt evidence-based health promotion interventions or have struggled to adequately implement them. My research aims to better understand how health promotion interventions in ECE settings work, for whom they work, under what conditions they produce successful change, and test strategies to support adoption and implementation of these interventions. In addition, my research looks at better understanding how to support ECE teachers and parents to partner in efforts to promote healthy habits for young children.

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities includedata entry, data cleaning, interview transcription, qualitative data analysis and literature reviews

Top Qualities Dr. Luecking Looks for in Student Researchers: Critical thinker, detail-oriented, strong interpersonal skills

Fall 2019: No spots available

Spring 2020: 2 of 2 spots available

Summer 2020: May have summer spots available, TBD


Heather Norman-Burgdolf, PhD

About Dr. Norman-Burgdolf’s Research: My research examines the role of Cooperative Extension Agents as a form of primary prevention for diet-related diseases in rural Kentucky. We look at the impact of Extension Agents on knowledge gained in clientele through direct education focused on nutrition and healthy living. In addition, we look at improvements to the built environment facilitated by Extension Agents as a form of obesity and diabetes prevention.

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include data entry and cleaning

Top Qualities Dr. Norman-Burgdolf Looks for in Student Researchers: Detail-oriented, hard-working and enthusiastic

Fall 2019: 1 out of 2 spots available

Spring 2020: 1 out of 2 spots available

Summer 2020: May have summer spots available, TBD



Kendra Oo, MS, RD, LD     

About Mrs. Oo’s Research: My research includes evaluating the Farm-to-Fork model through survey collections and informal interviews to inform best practices and improve the experience and physical space of this Campus Kitchen program. Another potential summer research project in collaboration with FoodChain is related to a Farmer’s Market incentive program called, “Power of Produce Club” that targets children aged between 4-12 years. This program aims to engage children in the Lexington community with the local food system through conversations with farmers, educational activities, and exposure to new fruits and vegetables with the ultimate goal of making healthful food choices.

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include data collection from surveys and/or informal interviews, data entry, data cleaning, analysis, dissemination of finding through conference presentations, and research writing for journal submissions.

Top Qualities Mrs. Oo Looks for in Student Researchers: Responsible, organized, timely and proactive

Fall 2019: 2 of 2 spots available

Spring 2020: 2 of 2 spots available

Summer 2020: May have summer spots available, TBD


Robert R Perry, M.A.      

About Chef Bob’s Research: My research includes working with agriculture researchers and farmers to develop and market food products, primarily first stage research. Current and past research includes working with ubatuba peppers, saffron, dairy and cheeses, heritage pork, beef, lamb, mushrooms, saffron, pawpaws, Asian carp, wheat, corn, bourbon, sorghum, garlic, ginger, turmeric and numerous other edible crops.

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include cooking with novel products and conducting sensory analysis

Top Qualities Chef Bob Looks for in Student Researchers: Inquisitiveness, detail oriented and willing to try new foods of all types

Fall 2019: 1 out of 1 spot available

Spring 2020: 1 out of 1 spot available

Summer 2020: No spots available


Julie Plasencia, PhD, RDN

About Dr. Plasencia’s Research: My research focuses on designing and conducting mixed-methods studies in various aspects of health disparities, mainly focusing on cultural food practices of Hispanics/Latinos. Most of my work is applied research, a methodology used to solve practical problems, particularly in ways that nutrition and dietetics professionals can use. I have opportunities for students to work on the following two studies:

  • Study 1: Qualitative interviews were conducted with community health workers in Appalachia focused on finding solutions to food insecurity and sleep disparities in rural communities. Data were collected in Spring 2019.
  • Study 2: The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between cultural values and dietary patterns among Hispanic Kentuckians. Data were collected from community clinics along with health records Summer 2019.
  • To learn about other opportunities visit www.julieplasencia.com

Undergrad Research Activities: Other common activities include weekly lab group meetings, learning to do data analysis using various software, writing results and methods, experience presenting at campus or regional conference

  • Study 1: Data analysis (thematic coding using NVivo Software), writing and presenting
  • Study 2: Data analysis (24-hour dietary recalls using NDSRQ), writing and presenting

Top Qualities Dr. Plasencia Looks for in Student Researchers: Ability to effectively multitask task (maintaining course grades & work on research project), organized, resourceful and problem-solver

Fall 2019: At mentoring capacity for this semester

Spring 2020: 2 out of 3 spots available

Summer 2020: May have summer spots available, TBD


Robin Shoemaker, PhD

About Dr. Shoemaker’s Research: Research in the Shoemaker lab is investigating the short- and long-term effects of pregnancy complications, like obesity or high blood pressure, on women's future cardiovascular health. We do research in the laboratory utilizing animal models of diet-induced obesity, collecting samples and analyzing data from clinical trials at UK in pregnant women, and performing data analysis of UK Healthcare patient medical data. 

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include working in a wet lab (pipetting, running assays, dissecting mice, taking images of heart sections and using software to analyze pathology; and data analysis (researching medical codes and data entry)

Top Qualities Dr. Shoemaker Looks for in Student Researchers: Strong interest in physiology and science, resourceful, likes to solve problems, motivated to learn and try new things

Fall 2019: At mentoring capacity for this semester

Spring 2020: 2 out of 2 spots available

Summer 2020: Will have summer spots available



Tammy Stephenson, PhD

About Dr. Stephenson’s Research: My research has four main areas of focus - increasing consumption of locally grown fruits and vegetables, developing innovative strategies to address food insecurity, understanding the role of diet in optimizing exercise performance, and developing learner-centered teaching strategies.

Undergrad Research Activities: Common activities include surveying at farmers markets throughout Kentucky, assisting with on-campus survey collection and entering data, developing and evaluating programming (e.g. Farm-to-Fork program providing healthy meals to UK students).

Top Qualities Dr. Stephenson Looks for in Student Researchers: Enthusiastic, personable, creative, innovative and detail-oriented

Fall 2019: At mentoring capacity for this semester

Spring 2020: 5 of 5 spots available

Summer 2020: Summer spots available (traveling to Farmers Markets throughout the state)