Why did you decide to pursue a career in nutrition and dietetics? Where did your interest in the field begin and how has your career unfolded?
Siona’s interest in nutrition was activated after she was diagnosed in her teens with an autoimmune condition. Seeing how a change in diet could mute the symptoms and regress the signs of this illness created a personal revolution and a passion that heightened her interest in using food and herbs as medicine. Additionally, she apprenticed with an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine herbalist straight out of high school, where she studied nutrition, herbal medicine and acupressure. After she completed her training, she considered studying acupuncture and herbal medicine at Bastyr, but instead she got engaged to her husband and remained close to their families.
A deep passion for learning and academia led her back to school to major in education and Spanish at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Not fully satisfied with her choice of degree, she took a year off from her education and worked full-time. At this time, she became business savvy and worked in banking and finance. She enjoyed learning new skills and working in the business world. Not long after, she felt the urge to complete her degree and establish her career. Her passion to study nutrition, herbal medicine and other holistic healing modalities led her back to Bastyr, where she decided to enter the culinary nutrition program. The experiences she gained in this program left her wanting more education and she decided to proceed down the path of becoming a Registered Dietitian.
Your experiences in the field have been quite diverse, how did you end up wearing so many hats, especially soon in your career?
Siona knew from the beginning she was going to be an entrepreneur; and a degree in dietetics along with culinary arts has provided her flexibility in her career. Each unique opportunity, career turn, and experience gained at Bastyr, combined with her background in teaching and holistic health, helped prepare her to take each new step. During her undergraduate studies, when the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for courses such as whole foods production, culinary skills 1-3 and therapeutic cooking presented itself, Siona jumped at each opportunity. These experiences led to a number of impromptu cooking demonstrations and provided her with the knowledge desired by by PCC Cooks, thus allowing her to begin her career while finishing her undergraduate degree. During her time at Bastyr, Siona also made connections with the botanical medicine department. When they asked her to teach herb and food, a core class for undergraduate herbal science students, she enthusiastically accepted. She was recently hired by the nutrition and exercise science department to teach whole foods production at Bastyr, beginning Spring 2016.
On a basic level, what are the most important skills that the DPD and internship programs demand?
Self-confidence, people skills, a breadth of food and nutrition knowledge, flexibility, patience with receiving constructive criticism, the ability to practice self-care and a work-life balance, and the willingness to think creatively about challenges while adapting under pressure. Believe in yourself no matter what!
What parts of your work do you enjoy the most? What have been your greatest stresses (at school, the internship, and/or work)?
Siona loves the creativity, the daily challenges, and the sense of accomplishment of successfully managing her business, Siona Sammarino, LLC. But most of all, giving back to others and inspiring students and clients to transform their health with whole foods is deeply meaningful and satisfying because of where she has come in her own life and health.
The greatest stress of having her own business and being a multi-passionate entrepreneur has been learning how to deal with overwhelm, mini failures and being a solopreneur. Trying to keep up with all the “hats” she wears can be difficult. Over the years she’s learnt to set solid boundaries with both herself, others and that which overwhelms her. Creating constraints by prioritizing her time into manageable and productive compartments, such as “Marketing Monday,” “Finance Friday,” and “Social Media Saturday,” is one example of how she has adapted to face challenges. As she learned from the internship, entrepreneurship is a constant journey of taking risks and adapting under pressure.
What’s your advice with regard to how to survive DPD program? What about the internship?
Siona recommends starting with knowing your individual and unique “why:” Why are you pursuing a degree in nutrition? Why did you select Bastyr? Why do you desire to become a registered dietitian nutritionist? Doing this early provides you with something to hold onto when things get tough. You'll have to keep returning to your "why" to stay motivated and in the game.
Second, find those people in your program you work well with and keep them close. The program is difficult and you need the support of your peers to pull you through the difficult times. If you can find peers to work on projects with that have opposite skills as you, even better.
Third, seek balance and don't forget about the importance of self-care and practicing what we preach. Strive to be excellent, but not at the expense of your well-being. If you make the commitment to yourself to be balanced, not only will it happen, but it will get easier with time. Siona got "burnt out" after completing the master’s and took on the challenge of working harder to maintain balance during the internship. At the end, it was a year of true growth and development both personally and professionally. Remember that internship directors are looking for well-rounded interns. It's not just about the grades. Grades are important, but there are so many other facets to consider. Your time during school and the internship will be what you make of it. How you approach each exam, project, etc. is up to you. It can be a completely stressful experience or it can be a challenging experience where you learn about yourself and become a better person in the process.
And finally, know what makes you unique and sets you apart from your peers. Everyone has something to bring to the table, so instead of getting wrapped up in trying to do what everyone else is doing, do that which will make your strengths even greater and then learn how to talk about your unique talents.
One of the most asked questions of entering students relates to securing the 300 volunteer hours required for graduation. What’s your advice with regarding to acquiring hours?
Siona acquired many of her hours during her last year of her undergraduate time at Bastyr and her first year of the master's. However, the principles she followed will work no matter where you are in your program. First, go back to your “why.” Knowing yourself and why you’re at Bastyr will help narrow the search for opportunities. You have to remember that you can't take every opportunity that comes your way and you have to learn to say no.
Your “down” time is valuable and you must be strategic where you spend it. If you have to work a job, her advice is to choose something that will also count for volunteer hours to maximize your efforts and stay sane in the process.
Also, if teaching is a passion of yours, seek out community nutrition classes and don't be afraid to try new experiences; if food is your passion, try a cooking demonstration or therapeutic menu planning. You need experience in all areas, but if you can tailor your choices to the internship you'll be applying for, even better.
Second, use your immediate resources and always think about how you can add value to someone else before asking for them to mentor you. Research your professors and other nutrition professionals, learn their passions, and let them know what you're passions and unique skills are (remember to start practicing speaking to others about your unique strengths and talents). Approach them by telling them how you can help them and add value to what they do. You'd be surprised how many opportunities may arise by making yourself known and available. But remember, your first two quarters at Bastyr are challenging; dial back your efforts in seeking these hours until the spring quarter. There's plenty of opportunities and time to complete the hours before graduation.
Don't forget to breathe and take care of yourself. Bastyr is an incredible community and the journey is truly exciting so don't forget to enjoy the process.
Interview with Siona Sammartino, MS, RDN, CD
student nutrition association
Siona Sammartino, MS, RDN, CD, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Nutrition Culinary Expert. Through the course of her career, Ms. Sammartino has focused on teaching whole foods nutrition and culinary skills through leading cooking demonstrations to help others transform their health using food as medicine. She earned a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and culinary arts, a Master of Science in nutrition with a didactic program in dietetics, and completed her Internship, all at Bastyr. She currently has a private practice in Kirkland, is launching her online business, and teaches university-level classes at Bastyr. Her special interests include functional medicine, autoimmune conditions, digestive health, teaching, entrepreneurship, and media. Colleagues, students and clients say she has an engaging teaching style, strong public speaking abilities and a knack for translating complex nutritional science into the practical, everyday application. Whether she's in the classroom, kitchen, or office, she's passionate about helping other transform their health and energy by falling in love with whole, deliciously satisfying food.