Hannah Rudt in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall.

CALS senior wins national student employee award

For her work in developing and teaching nutrition and food justice curricula to adolescents in New York City, Hannah Rudt ’23 has won the 2023 National Student Employee of the Year award – the first Cornellian to ever receive this honor.

Rudt has worked for four years in the research lab of Tashara Leak, assistant professor of nutritional sciences in the College of Human Ecology, who nominated her for the award. The research focuses on addressing how structural racism and poverty impact health and wellbeing.

“I think a lot of undergrads are good at doing, but she’s good at leading,” Leak said. “She's good at gathering the masses, really good at seeing other people’s strengths and then assigning tasks appropriately.”

Each spring the National Student Employment Association gives out awards to students in five different categories, plus one overall winner. Students are recognized for their outstanding work contributions and accomplishments while attending college.

Rudt, an information science major with a minor in community food systems in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was promoted this year to lead undergraduate research assistant. This allowed her the opportunity to coordinate with a team of staff, doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers and fellow undergraduates.

Rudt’s interest in the intersection of data science and public health drew her to a project in the research group where she interviewed low-income Latina mothers in New York City about their breastfeeding experiences. She organized their stories into relevant themes to inform a mobile, culturally relevant infant-feeding education program.

“I gained a better understanding of what representation means and why certain existing broad guidelines don’t apply to everyone and don’t work for everyone,” Rudt said. “It was a learning opportunity for me to hear how deeply rooted certain infant feeding practices are in culture. Like, the influence of a mother and a grandmother and a great grandmother and an aunt are really, really strong. Much stronger in the Latino community than I knew to be the case in my community.”

In 2021 Rudt did research with a 4-H after school club in New York City called the Advanced Cooking Education program. The first cohort of program had to move to a hybrid model during the pandemic.

“She was just immediately on board figuring out; how do we actually transition to this to online?” Leak said. “How do you still make an intervention engaging for seventh and eighth graders on the internet and asking them to stay on for a two-hour period?”

Leak said Rudt’s dedication to building relationships with marginalized populations makes her stand out. After spending weeks with the youngsters on Zoom, Rudt attended their eighth grade graduation in person with flowers and cards. In 2022 when the program was in person, she would often go in on days when she wasn’t scheduled, to spend more time with the kids.

“She sees them as whole people, not just like study participants,” Leak said.

Rudt later worked on adapting an existing curriculum about healthy food choices for adolescents in urban areas. She eventually co-led a five-week youth food justice program at the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, once in 2021 and again in 2022.

Rudt also received the 2023 Community Work Study Program on-campus Student Employee of the Year award, given by the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement.

After graduation, Rudt will be working for Cigna, the health insurance company, in their technology early-career development program. She said her work with the Leak group gave her confidence for this next step.

“I’m way better at listening to people's stories and asking about people’s stories,” she said.

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Rebecca Valli