Heather Guetterman – Volunteer Spotlight

Interview conducted by Tilden Chao in 2019.

First, let’s talk about your origins! Could you explain your path to Ithaca?

I’m originally from Illinois and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois. I studied nutrition there. Then, I wanted to continue to do research, and graduate school was the obvious next step. I came to Cornell University for a master’s degree in nutrition. When I came here, I started looking for volunteer opportunities that aligned with my interests in nutrition. I came across the Friendship Donations Network, and it seemed like a really fantastic program, so I contacted Meaghan [Sheehan Rosen, FDN’s Coordinator]. After I finished my master’s degree, I continued on to the PhD program at Cornell. I really love what I do. I’ve been here for two and a half years now, and I’ll be here a little while longer!

What about nutrition is compelling to you? Why do you love it so much?

I first became interested in nutrition when I was in high school. I ran cross country and track, and I became anemic in my sophomore or junior year. For a while, no one knew what was going on with me. I finally got my blood tested and I found out that I was low in iron. As soon as I started taking iron pills, the difference was insane. From barely being able to run at all to then shaving minutes off my time — I saw the power of a single nutrient. That’s one of the main things that piqued my interest in nutrition. After that, it’s been several experiences that have put me down the road of maternal and childhood nutrition. Studying abroad and thinking about how nutrient deficiencies may affect a pregnant woman and her child has steered me in this specific direction.

After you receive your doctorate, where are your plans for the future?

First, I would like to go somewhere warmer! But above all, I plan to stay in academia. The next step would be doing postdoctoral research — wherever that ends up bringing me. I don’t have a real geographic plan. I’ll go wherever seems like the best fit for me, after I’m done here at Cornell.

Let’s transition to your work at FDN. You mentioned that you got involved with FDN partially because of your work in nutrition. What are your main duties as a volunteer?

At FDN, I mostly do pickups and deliveries. So every two weeks, I’ll pick up donations from Wegmans and deliver the food to Overlook Apartments. Every month, I do pickups from several other locations and take them to Southside Community Center. I mainly do whatever can fit into my school schedule.

Many volunteers say that the best part of the job is meeting new people. Do you have any stories about meeting new people, whose paths may be different from yours?

Meeting new people is the best part of the job. Being part of the community has been a wonderful experience. When I first started, I worked with the Friday morning crew at Wegmans, who would sort and distribute donations. That was such a great, eclectic group of individuals, and I looked forward to seeing those people every single week. I remember that Sue, one of my fellow volunteers, once took me to coffee. I love being able to connect with people outside of FDN activities — her warmth really meant a lot to me. The women at Overlook have also been amazing. Every two weeks, I get to see them and talk about the latest developments in their lives. We have a such great connection. But truly, everyone in this community is so incredible.

Did volunteer for organizations similar to FDN in the past, or is this your first experience with food rescue and distribution?

This is the only organization I’ve seen that has done something like this. That’s why I was so intrigued by it when I first came to Ithaca. I’ve been involved with various food-related volunteer activities in the past, especially during my undergraduate years. But, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to do something like this.

Do you think that you’ll continue with programs like FDN in the future?

Absolutely! Wherever I go, if they have something like FDN, I would immediately be a part of it. After seeing FDN’s success here in the Finger Lakes, I’ve started to think about where else we could apply this work. I’ve worked with various groups and community members to try to let them know that something like this exists. I think that it would be a great opportunity for students in my program to experiment with this work. I would also love to inspire and motivate the creation of similar programs elsewhere.

Let’s say you’re doing a pitch about why students should volunteer with FDN! What would you say — what are the highlights of the job?

First, I’d highlight the flexibility of volunteering. As a busy graduate student, I can volunteer as much or as little time as possible. I can also take on more responsibilities when I can. But, meeting new people has been the best part. Those two things are all you need to sell it. It’s a wonderful, well-run organization that has been great to work with. I appreciate how caring everyone is at FDN. The community has been so helpful for me, especially after moving to a new place. It’s been a supportive family!

Do you have anything—any hidden talents—that you’d like to share with the community?

I feel like a lot of my hobbies have been lost because of graduate school! But, I love to play piano, painting, and drawing — anything that has to do with art. Art has been a huge part of my life.