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Spotlight on Students, Alumni, Faculty & Staff


Spotlight on Students – Jillian Otto

Nutrition & Exercise Physiology

Jillian OttoJillian Otto’s passion for wellness has driven her experience at Mizzou from day one. As a student in the Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology (NEP), she hit the ground running by getting involved in first-hand research, which laid the groundwork for long-term success.

Jillian is a senior from Festus, MO studying Human Physiology & Translational Sciences, a multidisciplinary program that studies the influence of nutrition and physical activity on human health. It involves rigorous coursework in the sciences, but Jillian got an early introduction to the field by applying to the Discovery Fellows program through the Honors College at Mizzou.

The Discovery Fellows program matches students with a faculty mentor to give them hands-on experience in the scholarly work of their chosen field. As a fellow, Jillian chose to work in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Parks and stayed with the lab for all four years of college. By working there as a freshman, Jillian gained a valuable early introduction to the field. “I learned a lot about the field before I was even in the classes that were teaching me about it,” Jillian said.

Jillian at workJillian started out by entering nutritional data for research subjects, but soon began working independently on more complex tasks. By her junior year, she was ready for her own project. With the support of Dr. Parks, Jillian developed a research plan to study sweet taste change after bariatric surgery.

“Everyone has different taste receptors, so some people like bitter things, some people like only sweet things,” Jillian explained. “I realized there were links between BMI and taste perception, so I thought, well what about bariatric surgery? Is there a change in taste perception [afterwards]”?

Previous studies found that bariatric surgery leads to a heightened sensitivity to sweet foods, but in these studies, subjects were tested three months after surgery, when they had already lost a significant amount of weight – supporting a connection between BMI and taste perception. Jillian therefore decided to test them sooner, before they lost a significant amount of weight, to see if there was any correlation between the surgery itself and a change in taste sensitivity.

Jillian tested the taste sensitivity of her subjects one month before they underwent gastric bypass surgery and one month afterward, and her results supported her hypothesis – even one month after surgery, subjects reported a decreased preference for sweet tastes. This change in preference may therefore be one factor that drives weight loss after surgery.

Jillian plans to apply for medical school after graduation while taking a well-earned gap year. She encourages other students not to shy away from opportunity, even if it seems intimidating. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she said. “Go right into it and take chances and make mistakes . . . That’s how you show that you’re ready for different and better things.”


Spotlight on Alumni – Tootie Burns

Tootie Burns, HES Alumna, Class of 1989

Tootie Burns attended Mizzou at a major turning point for HES. When she entered the university, the school was still called the “College of Home Economics,” but by the time she graduated in 1989, the name had changed to the “College of Human Environmental Sciences.” She was a member of the first class with the name printed on their degrees.HES originated as a Department of Household Economics in 1900, but by the 1980s, the concept had become limiting. “I don’t think [Home Economics] really reflected the programs we had,” Tootie said. “I had a great experience, and I love HES, but it’s a more polished, professional place now.” The College rebranded itself to reflect the expanded scope of its offerings and expertise, and with the addition of the School of Social Work in 1988, it became the “College of Human Environmental Sciences.”

Tootie studied Personal Financial Planning at Mizzou then known as Family Economics and Management, and she credits the kind and supportive atmosphere of the college with helping her succeed. “With Dr. Weagley, one time I just forgot about a final. I just didn’t go, and I was all in tears,” she recalls. “And he still let me take it. It was very, very nice.” Her best advice for current students: take advantage of the support services that the college offers. “Our advisers were good, but there wasn’t the kind of wrap around service that the students get now,” she said.

After graduation, Tootie used her degree to work in banking, but once she had children, she tapped into her creative side and got involved in the Columbia art scene. Today, she keeps a studio at Orr Street Studios (look for the blue door!) and displays her work at various art shows around town. She got started, however, by learning about glass mosaic through Village Glass Works with a friend. They made mosaic stepping-stones and sold them at art fairs, but Tootie then branched out from there, taking painting lessons and other classes at the Columbia Art League.

Tootie Burns at Orr Street StudiosBurns at Orr Street Studios

Mirror vs. Metal” helmet created by Tootie Burns for the School of Social Work Helmet Heroes event in 2010.

Although Tootie has moved away from mosaics, much of her art is still composed by bringing many smaller, disparate materials together to form a coherent image with new meaning. For these assemblage pieces, she still relies on some traditional materials (fabric, paper, or paint) but also utilizes “found objects” – natural or man-made objects that she finds in the community. “I love trash day in my neighborhood,” Tootie said. “I find a lot of things that other people are throwing out . . . I find wood, I go to estate sales. It’s fun to look.”

Tootie actively contributes her time to organizations both at Mizzou and in the broader community. She supports the local arts community as president of the board of directors for the North Village Arts District and for Museum Associates, Inc., which supports the Museum of Art and Archaeology at Mizzou. But at HES, we especially appreciate the time and effort she contributes to the Dean’s Strategic Leadership Council and as president of the HES Alumni Board. “Tootie Burns represents to me the ideal alumna—totally caring about the success of our students and college, wholly committed to contributing her time to college projects, and entirely loyal to HES and Mizzou,” Dean Rikoon said. “As a Dean, I could not hope for more!”

“I truly believe in [HES], and I think it is the best college on the university campus,” Tootie said. “I’m involved with several different organizations, but I feel that here you get 10 times more than you put in.”

Tootie Burns and Sandy Rikoon at Pancake BreakfastTootie Burns and Dean Sandy Rikoon at the 2019 HES Senior Pancake Breakfast.

Tootie Burns at Orr Street Studios.


Spotlight on Faculty – Dr. Jaime Mestres

Jaime MestresFor Jaime Mestres, fashion has been the family business for multiple generations. Inspired by the work of her father and grandfather, she pursued a career in the fashion industry, ultimately earning a PhD from the Department of Textile and Apparel Management (TAM) at Mizzou. Today, she works as an academic advisor and instructor for TAM, helping students achieve their career goals in the fashion industry.

Dr. Mestres grew up in South City, St. Louis, where both her father and grandfather worked in visual merchandising for the city’s busy Garment District. In the middle of the 20th century, St. Louis was a well-known center of fashion innovation and manufacturing, and it played a significant role in the development of junior apparel as a category of clothing. Motivated by this St. Louis history, Dr. Mestres initially obtained a degree in Fashion Merchandising from Fontbonne University, and at the encouragement of a faculty mentor, she came to Mizzou to pursue graduate work in Textile and Apparel Management. During her graduate studies, Dr. Mestres was able to investigate the evolution of the junior apparel industry further with a master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation on the topic.

Jaime MestresWhile working on her degrees at Mizzou, Dr. Mestres took a full-time position as an academic advisor for TAM and has continued in this role since then. At some universities, faculty members may carry out most advising duties, but at Mizzou, many units have professional advising staff to help students develop their academic plans and to provide support in navigating university programs. With so many policies and requirements to track, professional advisors are able to provide an approach to advising that considers the whole student in relation to their specific goals; however, students are still able to go to faculty members for advice on research, teaching, and their career paths.

Dr. Mestres does all of this and so much more. “My job is about building relationships,” she said. “I get to support students in achieving their academic and career goals.” In addition to helping students individualize their plans here at Mizzou, Dr. Mestres coordinates career services for TAM and maintains industry contacts to facilitate events with executives and on-campus interviews for students.

Dr. Mestres is also a skilled instructor and teaches a wide variety of TAM courses throughout the year. One of her favorites is TAM 1300 (Softgood Retailing), because it allows her to connect with all of the incoming freshmen. Another is TAM 2500 (Social Appearance in Time and Space) – “It’s diversity-oriented and can open students’ minds across cultures,” she said.

Her best piece of advice for students at Mizzou: “Find mentors for different aspects of your academic and career goals. If students have someone supporting them, they’re going to be successful.”


Spotlight on Staff – Becky Shafer

Becky ShaferBecky Shafer, Human Clinical Research Specialist Nutrition & Exercise Physiology

Academic research is often a collaborative enterprise that would not be possible without the support of skilled research staff members. Becky Shafer, a research specialist in Nutrition & Exercise Physiology, has become an essential member of the department who assists faculty members in coordinating their complex research projects. Her commitment to public health at work and in the community has made her a well-deserved recipient of the 2019 HES Distinguished Staff Service Award.Raised in the Midwest, Becky left her hometown of Windsor, IL to attend college in Washington, D.C., where she studied Health Promotion at American University with a focus on epidemiology. “I was always into sports and being active,” she said, “and seeing the trends of increasing obesity in America made me interested in studying health promotion.”After moving to North Carolina for a Masters in Exercise Physiology from Appalachian State University, Becky felt the pull to return to the Midwest to be closer to her family. Mizzou was especially attractive to her because its program in Nutrition & Exercise Physiology aligned so closely with her interests, and she initially found a job as a research coordinator for Dr. Heather Leidy’s lab in 2011, focusing on nutritional physiology and eating behavior.

Since then, Becky’s job has evolved to include more department-wide responsibilities, and she now coordinates the research conducted at the MU Physical Activity and Wellness testing center (MU-PAW). At MU-PAW, Becky provides consultation to faculty members and graduate students before and during their projects regarding logistical issues such as space and equipment options, regulatory requirements, and research protocols. She also helps recruit and schedule human subjects for research projects, and she monitors studies for progress and compliance. Figuring out how to accommodate certain research projects can often provide an interesting challenge. For example, Dr. Jaume Padilla is looking into the possible benefits of passive heat therapy (i.e. sitting in a hot tub) on improving blood sugar control in participants with type 2 diabetes. “This one is allowing for some creative logistical planning.” Becky said.

Outside her job, Becky is a model citizen for using her professional skills to give back to her community. As a long-time cheerleader (all the way through grad school), Becky continues to use those talents as a coach for competitive cheerleading at the All-Star Performance Institute in Columbia. She also uses her training in health promotion as the Health Ministry Chair at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. where she coordinates health screenings, and has brought in the Stay Strong, Stay Healthy initiative – a community-based exercise program from MU Extension. As if she weren’t busy enough, Becky coordinates behavior and training for rescues dogs through Columbia’s Second Chance shelter and is the proud owner of two rescue dogs herself – a Vizsla and a German shepherd.

It is no surprise that Becky was recognized this year for her outstanding contributions as the 2019 recipient of the HES Distinguished Staff Service Award. As one of her nominators said, “Health and well-being of people and companion animals are passions of Becky, and she strives to do what she can, at work and outside of work, to improve lives.”

Becky Shafer on treadmill desk
Becky Shafer with patient
Becky Shafer with patient