Kathaleen Briggs Early developed an early interest in nutrition when she observed her grandfather being fed through a feeding tube. Her interest in nutrition and helping others continued to grow throughout her childhood, and eventually turned into a lifelong passion.
“I took an intro to nutrition class at a community college and was just completely sold on the subject,” Briggs Early said. “I liked talking with and helping people, so it seemed like a perfect fit.”
Now, nearly three decades into her professional career, the 1997 CWU alumna is helping the next generation of nutritionists acquire the knowledge they need to help their patients lead more healthy lives.
As a professor at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Briggs Early teaches graduate students about nutrition and chronic disease management. The university works to support individuals seeking to work in rural and underserved areas—a mission she wholeheartedly supports.
Briggs Early encourages students who are interested in a health sciences career to try a variety of different disciplines and job shadow with as many professionals as they can.
Learning from others helped put her on the path to becoming a university professor, and she believes others should have that same experience.
She stresses the importance of asking questions, noting that the people running health sciences programs are very knowledgeable and can offer valuable advice.
“My day-to-day job in a hospital as a dietitian was quite different than my days as a professor or at the local clinic,” said Briggs Early, who worked as a clinical dietitian and outpatient dietitian for Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital prior to becoming a professor in 2007.
“I really encourage people to get job shadowing experiences and try to do research on the different professions that might be available to them,” she added. “There are also other areas of health science that people can study where you’re working more behind the scenes, and that can also be really rewarding.”
Long before she became an educator, Briggs Early set the stage for future success at CWU, where she earned a food science and nutrition degree, specializing in dietetics. Her experience in Ellensburg encouraged her to continue pursuing education and provided her with a strong foundation of knowledge.
“I had a great experience and found it to be a wonderful program,” said Briggs Early, a McNair Scholar who later earned her PhD in nutrition.
After completing her education, she worked as a clinical dietician and nutritionist for several years before becoming a professor and a volunteer at the Yakima Union Gospel Mission’s free clinic. There, she helps patients make lifestyle changes and provides them with essential nutrition information.
“It’s really rewarding to help patients make behavioral changes that can improve how they’re doing with a chronic condition,” Briggs Early said. “I’ll give them some
essential information and they take that home and incorporate it into their lifestyle.”
Her volunteer work sometimes overlaps with her professional work, which supports future medical professionals who plan to work in rural settings.
“We really try to encourage folks who want to serve in rural and underserved areas because those areas actually have a big problem with adequate health care access and adequate health care professionals,” she said.