OHEA Mentorship Program - Recent Mentor Experience with Pooja Mansukhani and why she started the OHEA Mentorship Program
By: Pooja Mansukhani, RD, P.H.Ec.
Pooja Mansukhani is the Registered Dietitian and Food Safety Officer at KitchenMate, a food technology startup, which blends technology, culinary and nutrition expertise to provide companies in the GTA with delicious, nutritious and affordable meals at their workplace. She previously worked in university and college foodservices, most recently at the University of Toronto. Pooja earned her nutrition degree from Ryerson University and holds a degree in Honours Applied Economics Co-op from the University of Waterloo.
Pooja’s love of food and nutrients is palpable and she immerses herself in several activities centred on her passion. She is a year-round instructor at Ryerson University in the School of Nutrition and Centre for Food Security, has a private practice in which she works with clients to help them feel their best physically, mentally, and emotionally, and she teaches spin classes. Pooja gives back to her profession through executive and board positions on the Ontario Home Economics Association, Dietitians of Canada Sport Nutrition Network, and the Accreditation Council. She is also completing her second year of a diploma in Sport Nutrition through the International Olympic Committee. In 2016 Pooja received a Member Recognition Award in the category of Innovation from Dietitians of Canada.
Pooja has a passion for local food and sustainability and biked her way through her backyard of southern Ontario for ten days in 2014, visiting and working on farms as part of Otesha’s ‘Pedal to Plate’ bike tour. She enjoys cooking but is a minimalist in the kitchen and is always on the lookout for quick, easy, and nutritious recipes- her current breakfast go-to is a mix of coconut milk, protein powder, chia seeds, nuts and fruits that she prepares the night before.
When and why did you choose to start the OHEA mentorship program?As a Nutrition and Food student working toward a practice-based designation, I was aware of the importance of gaining a variety of field experiences both for my professional development and to help me choose where I wanted to start my career. I took on ‘traditional’ volunteer roles within hospitals, community food centres, and private practices to name a few, but I found that responsibilities typically included ancillary projects and tasks that the institutions/companies needed to get done, like creating nutrition newsletters, workshop materials, newsletters, etc. Although these provided phenomenal learning experiences, the practical element was missing. I was not able to observe the daily operations of these organizations which I felt was crucial in enabling me to understand the bigger picture. There was often a lack of regular interaction with the professionals I was working with, and I was unable to ask questions unrelated to the specific tasks I was working on.
In 2011, I joined the Ontario Home Economists in Business (OHEIB) and met a group of Professional Home Economists working in the most fascinating food/nutrition professions including food styling, recipe development, and cookbook writing. These were jobs that had never been presented as options in my degree program. I wanted to share these opportunities with other students in the program to bring more awareness of the diverse careers in our field.
These reasons combined were the impetus for developing the first Mentorship Program. I developed the Program while I was in the 3rd year of my degree and while I sat on the OHEIB Executive as a Student Liaison.
The objectives of the program were as follows:
The program ran successfully for a few years and followed me when I moved to the OHEA Board.
What unique skills have you been able to bring to the table and pass along to your mentee?
I tend to partner with mentees who want to pursue the dietetics route because I am a Registered Dietitian myself who went through the qualification process within the last 5 years, and am affiliated with/connected to many of the undergrad Food and Nutrition and post-grad accredited dietetics programs. I can offer a unique perspective from work experience gained in several non-traditional areas within the field of food and nutrition which many students find appealing. With the diverse and unique opportunities I’ve been presented with over the last 10 years since enrolling in the Nutrition and Food degree, I feel I have a personal responsibility to share my experience with students. I want them to know that there are endless possibilities for jobs and they don’t have to settle for something that doesn’t meet their interests. Every year that I practice, I become more excited to learn about and explore what is possible with the degree I hold; and I do not think that will ever change.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a mentor so far?
I love working with students who are excited and ambitious. In addition to creating this mentorship program, I think my passion for supporting student development and growth is demonstrated by having supervised 25+ students as a dietetic preceptor for Food Services/Management, and teaching year-round in the School of Nutrition at Ryerson. It is thrilling to observe students meeting their professional and personal goals and making personal discoveries. I worked with my latest mentee, Laura Thibodeau, a Nutrition Student at Brescia who successfully achieved her goal of securing a spot in the Northern Ontario Dietetic Internship Program and I could not have been happier for her! I love being a part of students’ journeys and hearing about the amazing things they are doing 5 years later.
Overall how has your experience been and will you continue on with the program?
The OHEA Mentorship Program has evolved to be more functional and efficient from the original OHEIB mentorship program, and I still see immense value in it as I continue manage it. An interesting example of the program coming full circle occurred earlier this year. As I was wrapping up my undergrad at Ryerson in 2013, I approached the Director of the School of Nutrition to suggest creating an elective course which would be an extended version of the mentorship program. Luckily, she had something similar in mind that would allow Ryerson students to explore non-traditional roles that made use of their nutrition background in a practicum setting. FNP 400, Interprofessional Placement, was launched and has been running for the last few years. This past winter I was asked to be the instructor for this course and intend to teach it every fall and winter term as it has quickly become my favourite course. You never know where your career will take you! In conclusion, I will be continuing to support the Mentorship program, and my experience managing it combined with what I learn for my students at Ryerson will only serve to improve it over time!
Any advice for people interested in mentoring but may need the extra push?
I am the product of mentorship by several incredible individuals over the years and this is one of the many reasons I feel the need to give back. There is no way I could have ended up where I am today without these relationships. Anybody can navigate his/her professional life alone, but it is much easier and more fulfilling when you have help. There is so much value in the perspective of others, especially those who have been working at their craft for longer than you have. If you decide to take a leap and partner with a mentor, keep in mind that there are expectations of you, which is why we have guidelines for the program. Mentees are expected to be prepared for meetings, guide the relationship, and integrate learnings by developing short and long term goals. You will get out of it as much as you put into it. Mentorship is a gift, and the OHEA P.H.Ec. mentors are simply the BEST!
To learn more about OHEA's Mentorship program, click here!
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