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Passion For Possibilities, And Love For What You Do - Dr. E. A. Bonsi

Having passion for possibilities, and love for what you do, is the key to success. Dr. Eunice A. Bonsi is extraordinarily successful and has been for many years at Tuskegee University. She started at Tuskegee University in 1983 as a Laboratory Research Technician, left to the Pennsylvania State University, University Park in 1987 and completed her Doctorate in Family and Consumer Sciences with emphasis in Foods and Nutrition Education. Dr. Bonsi returned in 1990 to join her husband at Tuskegee University where they have made their home.

Dr. Bonsi has a joint appointment as Extension Research Professor in the Food & Nutritional Sciences Department, and the Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program as the State Family Life & Nutrition Program Leader. She also is the director and coordinator for the 1890 Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) implemented from 2006 to present. Her passion for food and how it gets to the plate makes for successful programs.

“I believe you have to know where food comes from, understand it, respect it, before you tear it apart for nutritional analysis. Therefore, as a nutrition educator, my aim is to create a working relationship with nutrition sensitive agriculture,” Dr. Bonsi said. “This is the model I have always used globally and at Tuskegee for years, working together with the horticulturist, the plant scientist and the community and not in isolation of the two.”

She has made herself available to work with farmers and other community partners to develop programs with them and not for them. “By having a respect for food and knowing where it comes from, there should be less loss and wasting of food,” she continued.

The concept of any Extension programming should result in giving people the necessary understanding of research results as tools for people to lift themselves from one challenging situation to a better one. Dr. Bonsi feels that community outreach through Extension should be the ingredients (entrée), application the method, (meat), and the new product (outcomes/impact). Once new product is developed, there is no going back. Like a butterfly that cannot change back to larva- no going back to where you were. Extending the information out to the community and putting it in language that can be used is essential for a successful program. Research works both ways, using the results of research that have been done and finding out what research needs to be conducted to provide applicable solutions to specific problems.

“Presently, it is difficult to implement Extension model of staff residing where they work. You live in the county and that’s why you are that county agent. This has become a challenge for Extension, since many agents do not live within the communities they serve,” Dr. Bonsi said. “By not knowing what the community needs, it is hard to suitably provide what is needed. She feels that it is part of the agent’s responsibility, with support of faculty to strengthen the communities they serve to make sure the information that is provided is useful and helpful. It is important to meet the people themselves within the communities that are being served and be able to offer the help that is needed.

Dr. Bonsi’s professional experience in food and nutrition program at Tuskegee University Extension has been varied and dynamic. She has community wide experiences as a Nutrition Educator along with experiences in program planning and administration, one of which is in her current role as the director and coordinator for the 1890 Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) implemented from 2006 to present.

One of the highest points of my career is to interact professionally and authentically with a wide spectrum of professionals, within or outside the nutrition community, to build trust and actively seek opportunities to find and implement practical/equitable/multi-sectorial solutions to complex local and global nutrition issues.

Additionally, she has further developed her leadership skills through being appointed as Chair of the Division of International Nutrition Education (DINE), the Society for Nutrition Educators and Behavior (SNEB). My position as Chair has provided me with valuable insight into the impact of nutrition-related policies and their ability to contribute to health equity. I offer my full commitment to work as liaison to bridge US and global nutrition education experiences to achieve Extension’s vision, mission and its potential impact around the globe. Now more than ever, the world is calling us to work together, and Extension is the conduit to do it!

Dr. Bonsi listed the Faith-based Food Safety Program, Healthy Start for Head Start program and the Summer Youth College (SYC) program as her pride and joy programs that she implemented. These programs have evolved, adapted, morphed, maintained and sustained through the University and in the communities. The success of the Summer Youth College (SYC) program is evidenced by the interests and contribution of Town and Gown. This program was initiated in 1993 for middle school grades 6 through 8, and sustained till now. What makes it impactful on families and communities is that everyone contributes in varied ways to strengthen and sustain it.

“The curriculum is more than just cooking, it is about math, language and science,” Dr. Bonsi said. “Cooking is the central concept where all other aspects of learning revolve around to make the meat of the lessons.” In other words, nutrition and cooking concepts are the focus, but teaching reading, writing, math, science, cultural drumming and dancing are wrapped around to create what we call educultural. An ingredient in the model is to expose youth to rich outside experiences through travel.

A lot of faculty volunteer their services to have the program simulate college for youth. Graduates from the program still communicate with Dr. Bonsi, through visits and virtually. Those who enroll at Tuskegee University get supported as work study students and mentored throughout their stay to graduation. “Until I retire, I have made it my ongoing conviction to write for grants that support college students in global experiences, before they graduate” Dr. Bonsi emphasized.

Even though the SYC model has morphed into the ongoing Youth EFNEP program, she has had students from the surrounding counties and as far as Georgia and New York to be in the summer program. When the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences (CAENS) completes the state-of-art kitchen in the food processing center, there will be updated of existing and new programs offered through Extension to both adults and youth. I am sure food preparation will be tops for even college students and faculty. Dr. Bonsi has secured funding to upgrade Tuskegee Institute Middle School kitchen for youth programs.

we are so proud of our partners in the program,” continued Dr. Bonsi. She wants to send a woke to Dr. Robert Zabawa and Mrs. Rosemary Wright for sticking with the SYC program from beginning in 1993 till present. Her success is due to her passion and love to teach others where the food on the plates come from and to let them know how to respect food.

Submitted by Jacquelyn Carlisl