Two passions, one heart

Name: Marie Fialkowski
Program: Health promotions and disease prevention
Year: Ph.D. candidate
Hometown: Kaneohe, Hawaii

A passion and a career: Marie has always been passionate about the synergy between food and culture. A big fan of her mother’s cooking and an athlete from birth, she understands the role that diet plays in our physical and social development. She chose to study nutrition as it seemed the best fit for both of her passions.

Venturing into nutrition: Last fall, Marie successfully defended her doctorate, which focuses on the dietary patterns of Pacific Northwest tribal nations. Through this research, she will be able to impact the dietary and nutrition conditions of a whole community by using culture practices and related traditions. Marie is utilizing her education, creativity and native abilities to influence the products, processes and services that will improve quality of life for this community of Native Americans.

A double-edged sword: As part of the Communities Advancing the Studies of Tribal Nations Across the Lifespan investigative team, from the University of Maryland and Purdue University, Marie’s group investigates the dietary practices of the Makah, Quinault and Quileute Tribes and their exposure to a neurotoxin present in razor clams following an algal bloom. Ironically, consumption of razor clams, one of their traditional foods, may affect neurologic systems. Understanding these dietary behaviors is vital to the overall health and well-being of these isolated communities.

In their shoes: Being a native Hawaiian gives Marie opportunities to better connect with the tribal community and to be in a position to facilitate proposed health promotion implementation. “People are more open to changing their behavior if it does not look so foreign.”

Sow a seed, reap a harvest: Marie is inspired by the changes that she can bring back to benefit her community. As a researcher, she also sees herself working in higher education and encouraging other native people to pursue their dreams.

Sources of inspiration: Her family has been inspiring and supportive throughout her move to the mainland, and Carol Boushey, associate professor of foods and nutrition, influenced her to live the dream.

By Fabiola Rojas D.