By Karen Angelo
When Prof. Katherine Tucker was growing up, she never dreamed about pursuing a career in nutrition sciences. In hindsight, however, she realizes it was the perfect match for her.
“My parents were from farms in Iowa, which I visited every summer of my childhood,” says Tucker, now a professor of Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences. “My grandmother used to say ‘Food is cheaper than medicine,’ and that pretty much sums up why nutritional sciences is such an important field.”
Tucker, who began college as a chemistry major, decided to combine her interests in science and food. She earned a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences from Cornell University. Over three decades, she’s published hundreds of studies on dietary intake and disease, mentored dozens of junior faculty members and shared mounds of epidemiological data with colleagues at UMass Lowell and beyond.
These accomplishments and more have earned her the 2021 Distinguished University Professor award. The highest accolade bestowed on a UMass Lowell faculty member, the annual award recognizes outstanding contributions to teaching, research and service.
Nominated by Prof. Tim Ford, chair of the Department of Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences Dean Shortie McKinney and several other faculty members, Tucker was recognized at a small gathering hosted by Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.
“I thank you for your service to students, researchers and the field of nutritional sciences. All of this demonstrates your leadership in the world’s knowledge of the important role that diet has on health and well-being,” Moloney said at the reception.
Tucker has received more than $30 million in federal and private funding for her research, including for her work at the Center for Population Health. Her research team establishes long-term interventions for diverse populations that effectively reduce the prevalence of diseases and improve overall quality of health and well-being. She has contributed to more than 400 articles in scientific journals on dietary intake and risk of chronic disease, including osteoporosis, cognitive decline, obesity, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
“I am deeply honored by this award, particularly as I know that so many individuals, including Dean McKinney and my department chair, Tim Ford, junior colleagues in my department, and colleagues from other departments working with our Center for Population Health wrote letters in my support,” says Tucker. “I am so appreciative of the wonderful environment of collaboration at UMass Lowell and am proud to see its continued growth as a top research institution.”
Asst. Prof. Sabrina Noel of the Department of Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences praised Tucker’s impact on the field of nutritional epidemiology and on the careers of many young scientists, including herself.
“Katy Tucker is highly productive, authentic, energetic and committed to the successes of her mentees and colleagues,” wrote Noel in a nomination letter. “She sets a positive example and inspires others through her dedication to nutrition research and her strong work ethic, and she sparks curiosity in those around her.”
UMass Lowell’s Distinguished University Professors serve for three years and include 2020 honoree Mechanical Engineering Prof. Christopher Niezrecki, Music Prof. William Moylan (2019), Psychology Prof. Meg Bond (2018) and Plastics Engineering Prof. Joey Mead (2017).
Tucker is the 14th professor to receive the award since it was established in 2008. She will deliver the annual Distinguished University Professor Lecture in the spring.