Department of Nutrition

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

MCH Nutrition Leadership Team


Marsha Spence  

Dr. Marsha Spence, Associate Professor and Director of the Public Health Nutrition Graduate Program, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and community nutrition researcher with a focus on pediatric obesity prevention in schools and communities, leadership development, positive youth development, and parent engagement in nutrition and physical activity education programs for youth. Dr. Spence, who is a first generation college graduate, was a funded MCH leadership trainee during her master and doctoral programs at the University of Tennessee. The training program provided Dr. Spence with numerous opportunities to explore her leadership and professional potential and developed her passion for strengthening the MCH workforce, increasing health and social equity, and decreasing hunger, especially among the MCH population in Appalachia and the Southeast.

Dr. Spence is an active leader in local, state, and national associations and agencies, including serving as current president of the Association of Graduate Programs in Public Health Nutrition; past chair and section councilor and current governing councilor of the American Public Health Association’s Food and Nutrition Section; national advisory committee member for the Embedding Cultural Diversity and Cultural and Linguistic Competence: A Guide for UCEDD Curricula and Training Activities; a board member for Our Daily Bread of Tennessee; and steering committee member for the Knoxville Area Coalition on Childhood Obesity.


Elizabeth (Betsy) Anderson Steeves

Dr. Anderson Steeves is an Assistant Professor in the Public Health Nutrition program. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds a doctoral degree in Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She completed her Master’s in Public Health Nutrition and Dietetic Internship at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Dr. Anderson Steeves has a long standing interest in the Maternal and Child population. She served as an unfunded MCH Nutrition trainee during her Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, and received specialized training in adolescent health when she served as a Leadership Education in Adolescent Health (LEAH) trainee at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Dr. Anderson Steeves holds several leadership positions including serving as a co-chair of the Retailers Sub-unit of the Healthy Food Retail Working Group of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  She is also an Associate member of the Knoxville Food Policy Council. Dr. Anderson Steeves’ research interests involve community-based interventions to reduce health disparities and prevent obesity among under-served populations and in conducting research to examine how social and physical (built) environments influence food purchasing and consumption behaviors of youth and families.

Funded MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainees

Alexandra Alford

Alexandra is a Master’s student and funded MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainee. She is in the dual MS-MPH program, focusing on public health nutrition and community health education. She has been an MCH Nutrition Leadership Trainee since August of 2015. Alexandra plans to continue working in this field, at either the local, state, or national level for Extension programming.


Marissa Black
Marissa is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition. Originally from Gainesville, Florida, she received Bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Japanese from the University of Florida. She worked as a clinical trial assistant at UF Pediatric Genetics and Metabolism before moving to Knoxville, Tennessee to be with her husband. Marissa hopes to practice with the pediatric population before ultimately pursuing a career in public health nutrition. Her MCH Traineeship has given her the opportunity to learn more about this population while gaining valuable leadership skills. Marissa has received the Commission on Dietetic Registration Diversity Scholarship (2017) and the Ruth Huenemann Public Health Nutrition Fellowship from the University of Tennessee, College of Education, Health and Human Sciences (2017-2018).

Marissa McElrone

Marissa has been a Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Nutrition Leadership Trainee since January 2016. She is a nutritional sciences doctoral student with a concentration in community nutrition. Originally from Easton, Pennsylvania Marissa served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa after completing her Bachelor of Science in nutritional sciences from Penn State University. She has worked with diverse, domestic and international MCH populations in research, programmatic, consulting, and capacity building contexts. Marissa’s dissertation research focuses on the impact of dietary acculturation on food security status and the use of community based interventions to address these issues with refugee and immigrant families. Marissa was recently accepted into the MCHB Trainee Ambassador Group (TAG) and will serve as an ambassador for 12 months starting in January 2018. The goals of the TAG are to foster connections between trainees across the MCH Training Program, provide trainees with leadership development opportunities, and strengthen the link between trainees and MCHB. Since matriculating into the MCH nutrition leadership traineeship, Marissa has received various accolades including: the Geraldine Piper Scholarship (2016-2017) and the Susan K. Stanton Human Ecology Scholarship (2017-2018) from the University of Tennessee, College of Education, Health and Human Sciences; the Oscar Roy Ashley Graduate School Fellowship (2017-2018) from the University of Tennessee, Graduate School; and the Tennessee Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Scholarship Graduate Student Award (2017-2018).


Ruth Zegel

Ruth was born and raised in Franklin, Tennessee. She completed her Bachelor of Science in dietetics and nutrition at the University of Mississippi. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science with a concentration in public health nutrition. Her career interests include working in a public health nutrition setting with the maternal and child health population and becoming a Certified Lactation Consultant. Ruth’s participation in the MCH leadership education and training program has further enhanced her desire to work with the MCH population and developed valuable leadership skills.


This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number T79MC09805, Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Health Nutrition, $176,649, 50% funded by the University of Tennessee, Department of Nutrition. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

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