Tuesday, May 25, 2021
  Around Campus

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Beginning this fall, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will now offer a new graduate program in dietetics for students wishing to become registered dietitian nutritionists.

The newly developed Master of Science in Dietetics program has been granted candidacy for accreditation status through the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). This is the final step of a long approval process to officially inaugurate the program.

The program will be part of the College of Health Professions in the Department of Health and Biomedical Sciences. Rachel Villarreal, clinical assistant professor in Health and Biomedical Sciences, will serve as program coordinator and program director for the future program.

“The program will offer a variety of courses that will ensure students meet competencies required to become an entry-level registered dietitian nutritionist,” said Villarreal. “The program will have an emphasis on public health through courses focused on diabetes, and global and public health nutrition.”

The innovative program will follow the ACEND Future Education Model Accreditation Standards for programs in nutrition and dietetics. These accreditation standards integrate didactic coursework with supervised experiential learning in a competency-based curriculum designed to prepare nutrition and dietetics practitioners for future practice.

This program is the only ‘future model’ graduate program in Texas. Students with any bachelor’s degree may apply pending completion of certain prerequisites.

Dr. Michael Lehker, dean of the UTRGV College of Health Professions, said the MS in Dietetics is a natural extension of the UTRGV Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences.

Lehker said graduates of the program will have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings including schools, long-term care facilities, hospitals, community and public health organizations, the food and nutrition industry, sports organizations, businesses, and research institutions.

“By applying food and nutrition knowledge to meet the needs of individuals, groups, and organizations, our students will help to decrease health inequities in our Rio Grande Valley community and surrounding areas,” Lehker said.

The program will be the only one in the Rio Grande Valley and the only program south of San Antonio to produce registered dietitian nutritionists. It is also the third dietitian program in the UT System behind UT Austin and UTSA.   

“We are very excited about the new MS in Dietetics program that will provide new opportunities for our students and produce much-needed registered dietitians for the Rio Grande Valley,” said Dr. Parwinder Grewal, UTRGV executive vice president for Research, Graduate Studies, and New Program Development. “These dietitians will help transform the health and well-being of the Valley’s residents and address the diabetes epidemic.”

For more information on the new program, contact Rachel.Villarreal@utrgv.edu.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.