Inspiring healthy living at Route 39 Academy

Written by guest blogger Sophie Poklewski Koziell, Governor at Route 39 Academy, Devon

Dr Alan Dangour, one of the Academy’s Fellows, visited us this week to lead three sessions as part of our students’ Healthy Living Project. Dr Dangour is a Reader in Food and Nutrition for Global Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and also a Senior Research Fellow in agriculture and nutrition at the UK Department for International Development.

But what exactly does that all mean to a teenager? Dr Dangour spent a session with students preparing for their GCSEs, explaining his pathway to becoming an academic, and what it is that he actually does.

He explained that he lectures to graduate students, does research, and also advises the government on food and nutrition. That’s a lot to fit into a five-day week!

If the students thought that academics were old, fusty and difficult to understand, they would have had all their preconceptions turned upside-down. Dr Dangour is lively, funny and a great communicator. He even told the students that he was pretty much “middling” at school, and that his science teacher had told him he was no good. Probably just to prove him wrong, he went on to read Biochemistry at University, took a Master’s degree in Nutrition and followed it up with a PhD!

Dr Dangour said that he loved his job, and that he’d got there through sheer hard work and perseverance.  “Never be afraid to apply for anything because you think you’re not good enough,” he urged the students, “Remember it’s all about hard work, and keeping going.”

As a STEM Ambassador, Dr Dangour often works in schools encouraging students to consider careers in science.  A show of hands from our group clearly indicated that around 50% of students would like to go to university, and 30% were considering a career in science.

Dr Dangour chatted to students about the careers they were showing an interest in, which included physics, meteorology, sports therapy, pharmacy, engineering and veterinary science. He explained much of science is a process of “detective work” and that it was “very exciting and rewarding”.

A small group of students also had the opportunity to listen to a talk from Dr Dangour on Ebola, which they are studying as part of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Dr Dangour told of the discovery of Ebola in 1976, and how the young Belgian doctor who helped in its discovery is now Director of the institute where he works! It was a fascinating talk and clearly illustrated many ethical and developmental issues associated with epidemics.

The day ended with over 70 younger students listening to a really thought-provoking talk on global nutrition. Dr Dangour illustrated the variety of food cultures across the world with a series of slides, talked about the effects of malnutrition on children, and explained how climate change will have an impact on global nutrition.

Although the sessions were packed with serious information, they were also peppered with entertaining anecdotes – from meeting David Cameron and Bill Gates, living in the Amazon, eating crocodile, and avoiding snakes – to a riveting account of how he removed a parasitic flea that was growing in his foot!

Dr Dangour reported back, “I really enjoyed the visit and found the interactions with the students really invigorating.  It was great fun to have the opportunity to meet all the students at the Route 39 Academy and I hope that I encouraged them actively to engage with STEM subjects”.