Below are brief bios of our team, including Principal Investigators, Communications and Outreach, Research Associates, Current Graduate Students, Current Undergraduate Students, and Affiliated Scholars. To see previous students, view our Past Graduate and Undergraduate Students. The Contact page of this website also has a form for those interested in joining the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University in the capacity of a Student, Research Assistant, Post-doctoral Fellow, Affiliated Scholar, or Collaborator. 

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Principal Investigators

 

 

Selena Ahmed

Selena Ahmed

Assistant Professor of Sustainable Food Systems

Dr. Selena Ahmed’s research, teaching, and service interests are at the intersection of the ecological, cultural, and health aspects of food systems. She leads the Agro-ecology and Phytochemistry Group of the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. Her research programs focuses on the effects of environmental and management variation on multiple dimensions of agro-ecosystems and links to livelihoods, dietary quality, and food security. Central questions of her research program include: What are effects of climate change on specialty crop quality and how does this vary with agro-ecosystem management? How do health outcomes of local food systems reflect the ecology, culture, and policy of a place? This work includes local, regional, and international projects that seek to inform evidence-based management plans and outreach to promote environmental and human wellbeing.

Since 2003, Dr. Ahmed has been examining food systems in a range of ecological and cultural contexts as case studies to explore complex human-environment interactions. She has conducted food systems research in China, India, Morocco, Venezuela, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. Her focal study system is tea agro-forestry and subsistence food systems in China’s Yunnan Province in the context of climate change and dietary transition. More recently, she has started to collaboratively evaluate food security and dietary quality in reservation communities in Montana and the effects of global environmental change on specialty crops in the United States. 

Dr. Ahmed measures multiple dimensions of food systems including biodiversity, crop quality (phytochemical and sensory), ecosystem services, and socio-economic and health outcomes. This interdisciplinary work draws from training in Economics (BA from Barnard College), Ethnobotany (MSc from the University of Kent at Canterbury), Biology / Plant Sciences (PhD from the City University of New York and the New York Botanical Garden), and Biomedical Sciences and Chemical Ecology (postdoctoral training from the NIH TEACRS program at Tufts University). Email: selena.ahmed@montana.edu

Carmen Byker Shanks

Carmen Byker Shanks

Assistant Professor of Food and Nutrition and Sustainable Food Systems

Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks’ research, teaching, and outreach expertise lies in behavioral and social sciences focused on food, nutrition, and human development. She leads the Human Nutrition and Behavior Research Group of the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. As a whole her research investigates how socioecological factors in diverse food environments influence the evolution of nutrition behaviors starting in childhood that affect health and human development across the lifespan. Mounting evidence in nutrition research indicates that biological, behavioral, and environmental interventions are needed in conjunction to alter current upward trends of obesity and related chronic disease in public health. Studies have shown that a notable percentage of these obesity and chronic disease health outcomes related to nutrition are preventable over time with changes to lifestyle and food environments, even in the face of biological barriers.

She addresses nutritional needs of communities through direct collaboration and the use of nutrient analysis tools, surveying, sensory testing, food environment instruments, food weighing, plate waste, mapping, inventories, and qualitative data collection. Her current research contributes to understanding the socioecological factors that impact dietary quality, nutrition behaviors, food security, and human health and development in three applied areas: (1) child nutrition in the school food environment, (2) family decisions in the consumer food environment, and (3) food assistance programs’ contributions to child and family nutrition.

Dr. Byker Shanks' research program aims to increase dietary quality of children and their families while contributing to healthier food environments and systems, decreasing health disparities and nutrition-related diseases, and promoting positive human health and development throughout the course of life. Dr. Byker Shanks holds a BS in Dietetics and PhD in Behavioral and Community Science from Virginia Tech. Email: cbykershanks@montana.edu

Communications and Outreach

Justin Shanks

Justin Shanks

Communications and Outreach

Justin manages a diverse multimedia portfolio to effectively and engagingly translate key messages to both academic and non-academic audiences to represent the mission, vision, and activities of the Food and Health Lab on a volunteer and project specific, contracted basis. Currently completing his dissertation for a PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at Virginia Tech, Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies (Loyola University Chicago, 2003), Master of Urban and Regional Planning, as well as a Master of Arts in English (both Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009). Before beginning his dissertation project, Justin conducted research focused on childhood obesity, food security, and food access. In partnership with the American Planning Association Planning and Community Health Center, he helped facilitate a nationwide review of planning documents, evaluation of practices, and survey of key stockholders to understand the relationship between urban planning and food access. Throughout all stages of his interdisciplinary academic background Justin investigated the importance of cultivating critical understandings of how technology shapes interpersonal interactions. 

Please contact Justin regarding press inquires, interviews, speaking engagements, or other activities featuring the Food and Health Lab and its affiliates. Email: justin.shanks@montana.edu

Research Associates 

Janet Gamble

Janet Gamble

Janet Gamble is a Registered Dietitian who also has her Masters in Teaching. She is an instructor within the Department of Health and Human Development (Food and Nutrition) where she teaches courses such as Basic Human Nutrition, Food Science, Nutrition and Society, Micronutrient Metabolism, and Culinary Marketing. Her backgrounds in both education and nutrition have helped shape her interests in research, pedagogy, food security, sustainable food systems, and cultural competency in foods and nutrition. Janet joins The Food and Health Lab as a Research Associate where she is assisting with various aspects of the Beef to School Project. Email: janet.gamble@montana.edu

Rocio Rivas

Rocio Rivas

Rocio Rivas is a Lab Manager and Research Associate of the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. Her research interests are to study nutrient-dense plants including wild and cultivated foods and outcomes of their consumption for human health. Rocio is earning her masters degree in Food Science & Food Engineering from University of Chile. She has been working on crop nutritional analysis and promotion for the past three years at MSU as a research assistant in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology. This includes work on traditional crop varieties as well as newly developed varieties with high nutrient quality such as selecting potato varieties on the basis of their glycemic index. She has also collaborated with MSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry on fatty acid and amino acids analysis of crops. Rocio’s educational work involves overseeing student lab projects. Her outreach work has involved promotion of nutrient-dense foods such as microgreens in local schools and farmers markets.  As a Lab Manager of the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University, Rocio works on a range of projects exploring agriculture-nutrition-health linkages including phytochemical analysis of fruits and vegetables, tea, and sugar maple sap. Email: iorivas@gmail.com

Current Graduate Students

Alicia Leitch

Alicia Leitch

Alicia Leitch is a MS student in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Montana State University and is the Lab Manager for the Food and Health Lab at Montana State University. Her primary research interests include interventions to reduce food waste towards advancing sustainability of food systems. She is also interested in the implementation of a campus composting project to use food waste to enrich curriculum and provide high quality soil for campus landscaping. As Lab Manager of The Food and Health Lab at Montana State University, she carries out various research duties including analyzing food samples, data management and logistical support. Email: arleitch2@gmail.com

Allison Milodragovich

Allison Milodragovich

Allison Milodragovich is a new MS student in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Montana State University. Her background is in environmental sciences with a focus on conservation in the agricultural landscape. She graduated from Montana State University with a BS in Land Rehabilitation in 2010. For five years, Alison worked alongside agricultural producers in Montana on their private land to implement conservation practices through a USDA agency. She returns to school in hopes of learning how to increase the profitability and sustainability of farms and ranches in Montana. Her research interests include: cover crop effects on nutrient quality, grazing management effects on beef quality, and marketing and selling local food. Email: amilodragovich@gmail.com

Candace Moyer

Candace Moyer

Candace Moyer is a first year MS student in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Montana State University. Email: candace.moyer@msu.montana.edu

Deepak Sharma

Deepak Sharma

Deepak Sharma is a MS student in the College of Engineering at Montana State University. Email: dsharma.ce@gmail.com
Leah Smutko

Leah Smutko 

Leah is a first year graduate student in the Sustainable Food Systems program. She is a native of Colorado. Leah earned her BS in Biology with concentrations in Anatomy and Behavior from Colorado State University. She also received a Degree of Culinary Arts in Sustainable Foods from The Escoffier School in Boulder, Colorado. Her previous experience is in veterinary clinics both for domestic and exotic animals with a focus on nutrition. She also has experience working in a Denver's Top 5 restaurant learning how to properly access and prepare sustainable foods for the public. Her research interests include sustainable farming techniques, food animal nutrition and chronic diseases. Email: leah.smutko@ecat.montana.edu 

Current Undergraduate Students

Bonnie Billingsley

Bonnie Billingsley

Amy Bordeau

Amy Bordeau

Dani Hess

Dani Hess

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Caleb Killian

Deborah Kraner

Deborah Kraner

Sarah Phillips

Sarah Phillips

Kendra Teague

Kendra Teague

  

Affiliated Scholars

Teresa Smith, Phd

Teresa Smith, Phd

Dr. Teresa Smith is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, a non-profit nutrition research organization in Omaha, NE. Prior to her role at the Center, she earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Smith’s research expertise lies in the environmental, social, and individual determinants of dietary behaviors as they relate to obesity prevention and cancer risk. This includes, but is not limited to cultural and familial influences on individual dietary behaviors, healthy foods access and availability, issues of food insecurity, and dietary measurement and analysis. Prior to joining the Center, Dr. Smith earned a BS in Education and Human Sciences and MS in Nutrition and Health Sciences from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. E-mail: tsmith@centerfornutrition.org

 

To see previous students, view our Past Graduate and Undergraduate Students