EMU student marches to different beat to become dietitian for U.S. Army
Wesley only person from Michigan chosen for elite group
YPSILANTI – Everyone knows that an army travels on its stomach. What may be a surprise is that the Army has its own dietitians and the newest one is from Eastern Michigan University
Karen Wesley, of Clinton Township, was the only person from Michigan, and one of only 10 nationally, to be selected for the U.S. Army’s Medical Specialist Corps.
“It’s (dietetics) one of the smallest and most competitive professional career fields within the Army medical health field,” said Major Michael Knott, former head of EMU’s military science department and Wesley’s ROTC adviser. “It’s so competitive that an applicant has a slim chance of being chosen if the institution doesn’t have a good medical school.”
About 200-250 applicants vie annually for positions available nationwide in the dietetics area. This year, only 10 spots were up for grabs, said Major Travis Burchett of the Army Health Care Recruiting Center in Ann Arbor.
Wesley’s chosen career path could have something to do with genetics – her father is an Army officer who teaches junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. (ROTC) in Warren and her mother was an Army cook, now a nurse at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
“It’s only natural for me to be in ROTC dietetics,” said Wesley. “I’m glad it all worked out since it was a struggle to get all the ROTC classes in with all the dietetics requirements.”
Wesley came to EMU on an ROTC scholarship. During her freshman year, she decided upon dietetics as a major.
“I love food and nutrition, and exercise daily,” she said, describing her weight-lifting routine and running regiment, which far exceeds the ROTC physical training requirements of at least three hours of physical exercise weekly.
“She jumped over every hurdle in her way,” said Knott, describing her achievement of earning a bachelor’s degree in dietetics with a minor in ROTC.
But Wesley was optimistic, she knew what she wanted and believed that if she worked hard enough, she’d get in, said Knott. With his help, she consulted sources and planned ahead to determine how best to position herself to gain entry into the Corps.
Factors the Army considers important in candidates are leadership skills, physical fitness, academic standing and overall medical condition.
“It’s a tough cut,” said Burchett.
Applicants must be between 21-30 years of age; have a GPA of at least 3.5; a graduate records exam score of 1,000 in select areas; possess no criminal record; be physically fit; and meet application deadlines.
Of all the applicants, only 23 emerged for the second cut, Burchett said. An Army board of officers reviewed those 23 qualifying records and looked mainly at the interview letter, usually written by a recruiting officer or university adviser. The board assigns points for a candidate’s special accomplishments, leadership positions, degree, GPA, professional memberships, volunteer work and stated short- and long-term goals. Family support and background are also considered.
“ROTC helped Karen. She just had an outstanding packet,” said Burchett.
“She’ll be an Army officer in dietetics, and that’s very unusual,” said Judi Brooks, assistant professor in EMU’s dietetics department, who explains most students earn a degree in dietetics and then join the Army to become an officer. “She’s just amazing.”
She demonstrated her take-charge ability as she pushed forward and earned a bachelor’s degree in dietetics with an ROTC minor.
EMU’s bachelor of science degree in dietetics is one of only two coordinated undergraduate programs in Michigan. It is also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education of the American Dietetic Association.
Wesley graduated with honors and was commissioned April 25 as a second lieutenant. To make the day even more memorable, it was 26 years to the day that her father received his commission.
As a dietitian in the Army, Wesley will be responsible for advising soldiers on health and nutrition matters.
After her nine-week training in Texas, she could end up stationed in a hospital working in the intensive care unit as a dietician for injured soldiers, or as an out-patient counselor for military personnel and their families.
Wesley, who is currently at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for officer basic training, said the best-case scenario would be a dietitian in a small Army hospital doing a combination of everything. Proper nutrition is particularly important in the Army since every soldier must meet a weight standard. When those standards are not met, soldiers are ordered to see a dietitian.“Karen had to be well above average (in all areas) to stand out,” said Knott. “You never know what the competition is. She got her foot in the door and never took it out.”
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.