Determined to make an impact on her students’ lives, Dr. Jacqueline Vernarelli is more than just a new assistant professor in the biology department. She has dedicated her life to science, specifically nutrition, and is applying all of her knowledge and creativity into the sciences at Fairfield, hoping to inspire a future generation of learners.

“I love mentoring students and getting involved with student projects, finding something that they like about a class and turning it into something new,” said Vernarelli. “What can we learn about this, how can this help you shape your next steps, whether it be a job after school or going to graduate school.”

Vernarelli grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Skidmore College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York. “I was really interested in the health applications of chemistry. I took some classes in nutrition and energetics in my last year and decided for graduate school that I wanted to do something nutrition-related,” she said.

Following her years as an undergraduate, Vernarelli attended Georgetown University School of Medicine and received her Master of Science in biochemistry and molecular biology.

“It was fun down there. D.C. is cool and a good place for science, especially health science,” she said. “I did some graduate work there, looking at cancer and dietary phytochemicals: things we eat that could help prevent oncogene expression or help block cancer development.”

“I then decided that I’m not really as excited about pipettes as I am about people and what they eat,” said Vernarelli. That is why she chose to attend Boston University School of Medicine and the School of Public Health to finish her Ph.D.

While in school, Vernarelli concentrated her studies from both a molecular and public health perspective. “I started looking at big groups of people and patterns of what they eat and how they behave,” she said.

Between graduate school and Fairfield, Vernarelli did postdoctoral research at Pennsylvania State University, where she stayed on as a faculty member for a few years.

Vernarelli came to Fairfield because she wanted “to come to a school where teaching was a bigger focus and where I could give back.”

She said: “I feel like I’ve gotten to where I am and what I think is so exciting about science and nutrition is that I got to do research as an undergraduate student. Fairfield is a school that really promotes undergraduate research.”

Her passion for teaching stems from her father, who was also a professor. She knew from a young age that this was an environment she wanted to be in.

In her first semester, Vernarelli is teaching two courses that “could not be more different.” One is a core science course for non-science majors called Contemporary Nutrition: Food for Thought.

According to Vernarelli, the course “explains how nutrition, as a science, relates to how we eat and how we live.” Even without science experience, Vernarelli believes it is relevant for students to learn learn about nutrition “because, well, everybody eats.”

Her second course is a cornerstone class for nursing students, Anatomy and Physiology, with very different students from her first. One has all non-science major upperclassmen, while her cornerstone course is comprised of mostly freshmen who are focused on becoming nurses.

She enjoys teaching the variety of students in these differently focused classes. Looking towards her future at Fairfield, she is excited to teach a bit more. “I may have a community and public health nutrition class, which would explain nutrition in the community, such as food stamps, school lunch, the soda ban and other interesting topics,” she said.

Vernarelli wants to expand the department as a professor and open doors to nutrition in the science department. She is looking forward to the opportunities she can bring to students at Fairfield.

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