Student Spotlight: Ibukun Owoputi

Ibukun Owoputi

February 3, 2020

Ibukun Owoputi is a doctoral student in nutrition from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and a master’s degree at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, Massachusetts, she chose to pursue further studies at Cornell due to its variety of opportunities.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

My research is situated within a larger program, “ASTUTE”, aimed at reducing childhood malnutrition at scale by preventing stunting (low height-for-age) in Tanzania. Stunting is an indicator of chronic malnutrition and remains a serious public health problem. ASTUTE relies on community health workers (CHWs) to deliver health messages to mothers through home visits. My research assesses how CHWs target households for home visits, and the social/gender dynamics that impact their ability to visit vulnerable mothers in their communities. I am also exploring how household gender dynamics, such as domestic violence, can impact families’ ability to practice recommended health/nutrition behaviors.

What are the larger implications of this research?

The factors contributing to stunting are multisectoral and complex, including maternal malnutrition, poor infant feeding, and poor sanitation and hygiene practices. Although there are existing interventions to improve maternal and child nutrition and therefore reduce stunting, social contexts strongly influence effectiveness and how well interventions are received. Many public health interventions focus on the mother and child, ignoring the household dynamics, which can significantly constrain impact. The results of my research will inform the design of better interventions to improve maternal and child nutrition at the household level.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

Growing up Nigerian-American, I always felt it was my duty to give back to the African continent. I had always been passionate about improving health and nutrition for women and children worldwide. Researching food and nutrition appealed to me because everyone has to eat, and what we put into our bodies ultimately affects our quality of life. The study of food and nutrition crosscuts among many fields: sociology, economics, biology, etc. I enjoy being able to use these various fields to solve widespread international health problems.

Can you speak about your work with the Office of Engagement Initiatives (OEI)?

With OEI’s support, I conducted participatory workshops with local governments and community members on the results of my research. I held six half-day workshops throughout my study sites to listen to public views of both the research and its results. In the workshops, I was able to discuss key issues that emerged during data collection, such as domestic violence, that affect the health and nutrition of community members. We also worked with community leaders during these workshops to develop ideas for work with building additional programming for improving gender dynamics within households.

What did this support allow you to do that you might not have otherwise been able to?

During data collection, leaders and community members in our study sites were extremely supportive and expressed interest in receiving research results. While there is growing recognition of the importance of communicating results, constraints of time and resources limit dissemination activities targeting those who can benefit most from the results, i.e. community leaders who design, implement, and participate in these programs. The collaboration with OEI allowed us to engage with leaders through these workshops. This was an opportunity not only to share information, but also to hear their insights and strengthen the interpretation/application of my research findings.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

My biggest hobby outside research is teaching spinning (indoor cycling) classes. I also like to do yoga, read, and have recently picked up hand lettering.

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

Cornell has traditionally been a rigorous and well-known nutrition program. I knew I wanted to attend a top Ph.D. program where I would have the opportunity to network with some of the best researchers in my field. The nutrition department is also known historically for its applied research to inform programming and policy, which is one of my long-term career goals. Due to Cornell being a large school, I knew I would have access to many unique courses, funding opportunities, workshops, seminars, etc. that would help me grow as a researcher and obtain a rewarding research position after graduation.