Dietetics grad serves in military and returns to JMU for grad school


by Morgan Vuknic, Creative Services Student Writer

Emily Wagener


Dietetics alumna, Emily Wagener ('18), has not had the typical college and career path that many take. She came into JMU as a nursing major, but quickly found out that it wasn’t for her. 

“Dietetics was not my first choice, but it is where I was meant to be,” Wagener said. “I came in as a nursing major and realized that that wasn’t what I wanted to do and then I got involved with ROTC. It’s a little crazy, but it’s where I was meant to go.”

Wagener said that the well-rounded format of JMU’s dietetics program helped prepare her for life outside of college. She got experience in food service by working in JMU’s commercial kitchen and food labs as well as clinical service which she said helped her to know what to expect once she graduated and went into her internship. 

Also during her undergrad, Wagener was part of ROTC. She said she never thought that ROTC would be something that she’d do, but she ended up falling in love with it. 

“I remember sitting in that auditorium and being like that’s what I’m going to do,” Wagener said. “No one in my family’s been in the military, we’re not a military family, it was never something I’d ever talked about or considered before. But I did it and I stuck with it and never turned back.”

Being in ROTC was very challenging, but also very rewarding, Wagener said. She said it forced her to manage her time well, but it also gave her a great group of friends. 

While pursuing her undergrad and being in ROTC, Wagener was also part of the National Guard.This consisted of her driving to Charlottesville once a month to drill with her unit. After finishing up that training, she was commissioned into the Army. 

But her experience in the Army was slightly different due to COVID-19. She said because of the pandemic, the Capitol riot, and the COVID vaccine, she was able to be in the Army full-time when typically, National Guard members are only part-time. 

“When we got commissioned, I actually got very lucky in a way,” Wagener said. “I was in the National Guard so I was only supposed to be in the Army part-time, but I was full-time for around a year and a half. This isn’t an experience most National Guard people get so I got to learn a whole lot in a very short amount of time just based on the world’s current environment which was a really awesome experience.”

Now, after serving, Wagener has decided to come back to JMU to pursue graduate studies in Nutrition and Physical Activity. 

While pursuing her graduate degree, Wagener is also a  graduate assistant for Sports Medicine. In this position, she acts as a sports dietitian. Wagener says she mainly works with basketball, but she also sees athletes from other sports. Her main duties are providing team education, managing travel meals and running the athlete’s field stations. Wagener said the graduate assistants are essentially the “people on the sidelines with the snacks.” She said she is super grateful for this position and it has allowed her to pursue a career that she has always wanted to.

“I love it, it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do,” Wagener said. “To come back to JMU and do what I’ve wanted to do professionally, it’s like dreams really do come true.”

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Published: Monday, September 27, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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