RDN Spotlight: Dalina Soto MA, RD, LDN
WHAT IS YOUR ETHNICITY/RACE? Does YOUR FAMILY HAVE ANY CUSTOMS RELATED TO FOOD THAT YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT?
I am Hispanic and my parents are from the Dominican Republic. We have tons of customs related to food- from eating rice and beans EVERY DAY to having habichuela con dulce (sweet bean dessert) for the Easter holidays.
TELL US WHERE YOU WENT TO SCHOOL AND COMPLETED YOUR DIETETIC INTERNSHIP.
I completed my undergrad in Nutritional Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in 2010. I completed my dietetic internship in 2013 at Immaculata University and graduated with a Masters in Nutrition Education from Immaculata in 2015.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO CHOOSE NUTRITION AND DIETETICS AS A CAREER?
I actually began my journey as a pre-med student at Penn State. And I took a Nutrition 101 class my first semester and fell in love. I switched majors and decided I wanted to be on the more preventative side of healthcare.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU IN BECOMING A DIETITIAN AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
When I was a senior at Penn State I asked a particular professor for a letter of recommendation. Her answer was "no", because in her eyes I’d never succeed as a dietitian. She believed that because I had no interest in clinical and wanted to work with low income families, that I wouldn’t make it. She also didn’t like the fact that I was very vocal in her classes about [the lack of] diversity.
No one [in my nutrition program] had really experienced firsthand what living in an urban community was like. They had never really been to a "real" Philadelphia neighborhood. No one really knew what a “food desert” was. No one had ever interacted with inter-city kids who didn’t really know what fruits and vegetables were. And they just did not understand what a girl like me was doing in these classes, speaking out about the truths of our communities. To her, me wanting to work in the community was a waste of my time... and she never wrote that letter.
But I knew I was going to prove her wrong. And here I am- working in the community, teaching them how to do what they can with what they have. I’m speaking to my community in their language, helping them manage disease and I am doing EXACTLY what I set out to do.
I did this by overcoming my fears, by taking control of my career and NOT giving up. I stayed true to working in my communities, making connections, volunteering and joining groups.
HAve you had any mentors in during your education or career?
I had a mentor during my time at PSU, another professor who urged me not to give up. My mentor helped me apply to graduate programs and helped me believe in myself again.
WHY DO YOU THINK DIVERSIFYING THIS FIELD IS IMPORTANT?
It is important because once we take culture away from a person's food, you take away their identity. Asking someone to cut out a food group or replace a food with something they have never had causes stress and anxiety. Being conscious of the foods from cultures, learning how to possibly make them healthier, having patients and clients feel like you care about them, how they feel and how they eat makes all the difference.
WHAT ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE A STUDENT OF COLOR INTERESTED IN ENTERING THIS PROFESSION?
Do it! It might not be the most glamourous of jobs but its so fulfilling to help others take control of their health.