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Sa’Nealdra Wiggins fell in love with the field of women’s health during an undergraduate internship. Now a fourth-year doctoral student in nutrition scheduled to graduate in May 2021, Wiggins is one of five PhD students recently honored as Tennessee Doctoral Fellows.

A premier award for graduate students, the fellowships are funded by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and UT’s Graduate School. Tennessee Doctoral Fellows are chosen every three years; this is only the second group of fellows at UT.

The recipients are chosen from nominations from departments across campus. Their three-year awards consist of a $20,000 fellowship, a 25 percent assistantship in their home department, a tuition waiver, and a $2,500 educational allowance for conference travel or other academic expenses. In addition, the fellows enjoy networking and professional development opportunities and are paired with a faculty mentor.

Wiggins was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and raised in Clarksville, Tennessee. Her first name, Sa’Nealdra, is a combination of her parents’ names, Sandra and O’Neal. She has a bachelor’s degree in public health from Middle Tennessee State University.

She came to UT in 2013. While completing some undergraduate nutrition courses so she could enroll in the master’s program, she began to work with Sarah Colby, associate professor of nutrition, in the Research on Eating and Activity for Community Health lab.

“I was quickly captivated by the vast amount of career opportunities available in the nutrition field and the opportunities to educate others about health,” she said. “I knew it would be important to make the most of my education by obtaining as much knowledge as possible. The following year, I enrolled into our master’s bypass program and was accepted as a doctoral student.”

Wiggins’s research involves implementing a dietary intervention with mothers in hopes of improving the diet of their adolescent daughters. She aspires to be a registered dietitian and work as a governmental program director. But she’s also interested in staying in academia.

Wiggins said UT has been a nurturing place for her.

“UT has provided the space for me to continue to learn and develop professionally,” she said. “My mentor, Dr. Colby, has been pivotal in my growth here at UT. I call her my work mom, because she saw the potential in me before I saw it in myself. She continues to stretch my thinking and prepare me for a successful future.”

Wiggins said the Tennessee Doctoral Fellowship “means an opportunity to network and continue molding myself as a future nutrition professional. It provides the opportunity for me to continue my doctoral career without the financial strain.”