Won O. Song, Ph.D., MPH, RDN, a recently retired faculty member from the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN), has established a new endowed fund to provide scholarships for FSHN undergraduate students to study abroad.
Administered through the MSU Office for Education Abroad, study abroad programs allow students an experience to engage in cultures different from their own every year and gain meaningful skills that can position them for academic and professional success. CANR offers Education Abroad destinations that span the globe, with opportunities to live, learn, experience different cultures and conduct research in more than 25 countries.
“On behalf of the college, I would like to thank Dr. Song for her generosity and vision in establishing an endowment to support education abroad scholarships in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition,” said Rhonda Crackel, director of CANR Study Abroad. “Studying abroad can be an exciting and transformative experience through which students develop valuable skills, build networks, gain new perspectives and make life-long friends. However, such opportunities may be limited for some students due to financial constraints. This endowment will increase access to funds for education abroad programming and will contribute to the diversity of the pool of student participants.”
Born and raised in South Korea right after the Korean War, Song developed a passion for other cultures early on. Song earned a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition from Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Korea. She then went on to earn a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Seoul National University School of Public Health, and then a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Iowa, and a Ph.D. from Utah State University.
She came to MSU as an assistant professor teaching the general nutrition undergraduate course to over 1,000 students each quarter.
“Many freshmen in the class had never had this size of class, nor an international professor. It was challenging, but I appreciate challenges. I learned I was more a performer at times, rather than an instructor,” Song recalled.
Throughout her 38-year-career at MSU, Song mentored, advised and taught undergraduate dietetics majors to become professionals in human nutrition with master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral training. Working with students from diverse families, cultural and economic backgrounds, and also through international research projects on food security and maternal child health, Song realized lasting humanity would be best cultivated at one’s developmental stages through experiences and personal challenges.
She also encountered many undergraduate students who could not afford to participate in education abroad programs. To make it possible for more students to benefit from these experiences, Song created the Dr. Won Song Study Abroad Scholarship for Food Science and Human Nutrition, an endowment fund to provide perpetual support for students with limited financial means and/or limited family support who might not otherwise have this opportunity.
“Education is important, but one cannot get an education without money,” Song said. “Educational experiences to other cultures and ways of living are ever-important for our students.”
She wants to provide international exposure to help young peoples’ minds grow by enabling them to benefit from travel abroad.
“I had helped a few individuals financially, but that’s not enough,” Song said. “I would like financial support for these international experiences to continue after I’m gone.”
To ensure the scholarship remains for generations to come, Song established the fund as an endowment, which will provide a perpetual source of income each year.
“It’s not a lot of money, I’d like it to be larger to make a bigger impact, but if I can help one or two students each year, it will make a difference. This is my wish. It’s like putting a candle on something and hoping the candlelight can go on.”
Song explained that many MSU students are privileged, and she hopes that experiential learning through international travel helps provide students with an appreciation for other cultures.
“Even I was in an ivory cocoon,” she said. “For example, after seeing the unsanitary conditions of maternal delivery rooms in other countries — with the windows open, no anesthesia and flies in the room — it helped me grow … What really helps us open our eyes is exposure.”
Song says this type of learning cannot transpire through lectures. Students are smart and intellectual, but there’s a lot more information out there. What is needed, she says, is to attract their interest to explore.
Retired as of Dec. 31, 2021, Song was an active researcher and teacher since she joined the MSU faculty as an assistant professor in 1984. Her research training and interests focused on nutritional epidemiology; community nutrition; food consumption behaviors in relation to chronic diseases; dietary patterns and health risks at the national and international settings; biomarkers and predictors for nutritional status in large populations with an emphasis on the subgroups at risk; national nutrition surveys and its application in research; nutrition education – theories and application of technology.
She took two sabbaticals where she served as a visiting scientist for the Department of Biochemistry at Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia and as a research professor at Ewha Womans University, Asian Food and Nutrition Research Center in Seoul for the Korean Federation of Science and Engineering Society, Brain Pool Program. She also served as both acting dean and associate dean for academic affairs for the former MSU College of Human Ecology (CHE), where FSHN was previously housed jointly under CANR before CHE was disbanded in 2005.
She received numerous recognitions for her research and teaching accomplishments and served on many national and international committees for professional and industry organizations. She published over 10 books and book chapters, more than 130 peer-reviewed articles and delivered about 300 presentations to professionals.
In the later years of her career, she extended her research activities in maternal child health in international settings and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.
“MSU is the perfect place for me. It’s the people I work with — the college and central leaderships really make the difference. I have to be comfortable to be able to grow and be more creative because the driving force at MSU is the research as a research institution.”
“The more I think about it, I have been fortunate with my career and my life,” she continued. “I’ve been blessed … I hope others can reflect on their own lives and fortune, and share with others.”