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Tonya Harris is assistant to the head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. (Photo by Chamberlain Smith/UGA)

On Aug. 8, 1994, Tonya Harris started her first day of work in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Thirty years later, she’s still working for the Department of Nutritional Sciences, now as assistant to the department head.

“I really do feel like this is a family,” she said. “I haven’t wanted to leave because of the leadership that has always been provided for this department. Each department head I’ve worked for has taken the department to the next level, and we’ve grown exponentially.”

When she started with her department, they had approximately 14 faculty members, and now the department is up to 25 faculty members. Also in that time, she’s worked for four department heads and two interim department heads, as well as four deans and three interim deans.

Those aren’t the only changes the department and college has seen in last three decades. Recently, her department was renamed from Foods and Nutrition to Nutritional Sciences. She said that’s because the breadth of opportunities in the department has grown. In addition to more and varied undergraduate and Double Dawg degrees, the department’s research now extends to obesity, gut microbiome, infant and maternal health, certain cancers, bone health and studies on folate and zinc.

“The leadership we’ve had understands how needs have changed among our students, and they have seen these opportunities and moved forward in trying to offer the newest information and the education our students deserve,” she said.

Harris said she’s picked up on that information, and it’s helped her eat healthier and move more, particularly weight-bearing exercises.

“The saying that we have is ‘real knowledge for real life,’ and that is true,” she said.

Harris has been able to see the real-life applications of her college’s work. She began as senior secretary, then administrative secretary, then office manager. She then took a position as a research professional, working with Rick Lewis’ study on osteoporosis prevention using soy. As that grant ended, the person hired as office manager moved out of state. Harris interviewed for the position again and was hired. Now, she serves as assistant to the nutritional sciences department head.

Yes, Harris keeps her department head’s schedule and travel, but she has a hand in much more and ensures her department is running smoothly. She serves as her department’s human resources representative and handles its promotions and tenure. She also schedules the department’s courses, which is particularly important for its two accredited programs. Additionally, she assists with all faculty searches in her department.

Her favorite duty, though, is assisting with the College of Family and Consumer Sciences’ convocation. She plays a large role in coordinating it and relishes the opportunity to celebrate the students’ successes.

“This job has tremendous responsibilities,” she said. “It’s been fulfilling for me.”

Outside of work, Harris spends as much time as she can with family and enjoys crafting with her Silhouette machine. In addition, she serves as the praise and worship team leader at her church. She also enjoys photography and being in nature looking for eagles. She wants to visit every state and has an admittedly dangerous bucket list that includes skydiving, riding a bull and driving a racecar.

Whether it’s her own family or those she works with, Harris always makes an effort to encourage others.

“Across my career, I’ve tried to be a helping hand,” she said. “The College of Family and Consumer Sciences is a great place to be at the university.”

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