Rachel Wilkens

Rachel Wilkens aspires to become a registered dietitian working in underserved areas. When Rachel isn't studying, she enjoys making Spotify playlists, reading, watching reality television with her friends, and riding her bike. 

Rachel Wilkens exerts passion for helping people through dietetics major

Rachel Wilkens always had an interest in the healthcare field, but it wasn’t until she took a nutrition class at Iowa State University that she found a passion for dietetics.

Rachel wants to become a registered dietitian in underserved areas, as she believes they are in need of the most help.

“I want to reach out to people who are not benefitting from the healthcare system currently,” she said. “By helping them live healthy lifestyles and giving them the nutrition they need to be healthy, you can prevent them from needing medical care later.” 

Rachel emphasizes the fact that good nutrition has a duality; it is both a prevention and a treatment. 

“It’s important to prevent [diseases] by trying to give yourself the best diet, but also it’s treatment because a lot of diseases are treatable with nutrition interventions,” Rachel said. 

Rachel is currently implementing knowledge in her area of study to help those with mild cognitive impairments through a research study she is coordinating in the Imaging Brains at Iowa State (IBIS) laboratory, run by food science and human nutrition assistant professor, Auriel Willette.

It has been found in previous studies that insulin resistance is related to decreased cognitive abilities and mild cognitive impairment. In the study Rachel is conducting, participants maintain a calorie-restricted diet, and that resistance helps insulin sensitivity, which then impacts brain function.

“Other studies have developed a connection between calorie restriction and improving cognitive ability, but our study is unique because it focuses on people with mild cognitive impairment, which is a precursor to Alzheimer's,” Rachel said. 

This study could provide hope for people with mild cognitive impairment, and its findings could lessen their chance of developing Alzheimer's. This research is important to Rachel because it gives her firsthand experience in coordinating an impactful research study — something she hopes to continue in the future.

As a dietetics professional, Rachel wants to conduct more research on the obesity epidemic, which is closely associated with other health issues and costs. She hopes to significantly contribute to the communal knowledge on obesity to continue to help people.

“I think one of the biggest things needed is research on how to change the environment in communities to encourage activity and healthy nutrition,” Rachel said.