HealthCorps Student Highlight | Tiffany Ma
By Tiffany Ma | Former HealthCorps Student
The year is 2010. It’s third period, and I’m distracted by my best friend in English class telling me all about the latest news and gossip that happened over the weekend. All of a sudden, a woman I have never seen before steps into our classroom and plants her two little black boots in front of our classroom at a dead stop. I turn around and I don’t look back at my friend.
Her name was Orly Ninyo, and she was our HealthCorps Coordinator. She came into our classroom to talk about the differences between whole-wheat bread and white bread. I remember this distinctly because she had actually brought both breads, neatly tucked into clear zip-lock bags as examples.
Growing up in an Asian-American household, whole-wheat bread was non-existent in my family’s home. If we were eating any type of starchy carbs, it was white-Jasmine rice, cooked in our Holy Grail rice-cooker that we had for as long as I could remember. At the time, I didn’t even know there was such thing as whole-wheat bread, but here was Orly, telling us all about the in’s and out’s — it takes longer to digest, it has plenty of fiber, and it’s also good for your heart!
I didn’t know it at the time, but learning about the differences in whole-wheat bread and white bread in the middle of English class became a pivotal moment in my life. Looking back at it now, I can’t believe all it took was two pieces of bread in clear zip-lock bags to determine my future!
I remember becoming instantly fascinated with nutrition — what healthy eating habits were like, the importance of eating fruit and vegetables, and especially, how important it was to fuel up properly before exercise. Prior to forming a relationship with Orly, I knew little to nothing about nutrition. In fact, I don’t think I ever made the connection that healthy eating habits played an important role in my life at all. I ran Track and Cross-Country for the remaining years of my high school career. During that time, I became captain for the girls’ cross-country team. With the newly assigned title, I was given new responsibilities. I soon found myself confidentially answering basic questions from my teammates about what foods were good to eat before a meet and what foods were best for recovery from some of the knowledge that I gained from HealthCorps.
I would often skip lunch to go downstairs where Orly was holding HealthCorps office hours. Avoiding the hectic-ness of lunch to be in the HealthCorps office gave me a piece of mind, and a newfound purpose later on in life. During lunch hours, we spent time making parfaits, tie-dying t-shirts, and creating little pots for fresh herbs. Being given the opportunity to learn outside the classroom and partake in hands-on activities seemed to really solidify that nutrition was more than just an interest. I went on to receive my Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics at the State University of New York at Oneonta, which was then followed by getting matched to a highly competitive dietetic internship. I then went on to take the nationally accredited Registered Dietitian Nutritionist exam to become who I am today—Tiffany Ma, RDN.
I now am a Nutritionist for the New York State Department of Health, working primarily with the WIC program, an organization that works to help low-income mothers and children up to age five lead healthy lives through nutrition education and supplemental foods. I also started a nutrition consulting company, PoweRDBelly Nutrition, where the focus is on creating a better relationship with food by establishing long-term habits.
I think back at the times where I felt like I was impacted the most professionally — and I often trace it back to the moment Orly stepped into my third period classroom. High school wasn’t the easiest time for me. There was often tension back at home, and I was struggling hard to find myself in a large crowd of students. Both my parents are immigrants to this country, and they both ultimately came to America to give my siblings and me a better life. This built up pressure to excel as a student because of the sacrifices that my parents made for me sat on top of all my assigned homework and hours of track practice. Orly became a breath of fresh air for students like me. Yes—HealthCorps began my interest in nutrition, but it did so much more than that. HealthCorps made me feel important, noticed, and cared for as a student. I now have a career I love, and a purpose to live my life helping those around me because of the doors HealthCorps opened for me. I can truly say those two pieces of bread sure went the extra mile that day!