Project Leader

Mani Nakamura, PhD, DVM

Being a proud nutritionist, I have a “NUTRTN 1” license plate on my car.  In the long run, I have hefty goals for our wight loss projects: 1) Establish a dietary weight loss program as an alternative to bariatric surgery, 2) Reach out to under-served communities, and 3) Create more jobs for dietitians and nutritionists.  In addition to the research, I teach two graduate courses, FSHN 521 and FSHN 522, that cover dietary prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. I love the work I do.; profile at FSHN, DNS

Research Dietitians

Ashley McCartney, MS, RDN, LDN

She received her Masters of Science in Family and Consumer Sciences with a focus in Dietetics from Eastern Illinois University. She practiced from 2009-2012 at Presence Hospital and is currently practicing as a registered licensed Dietitian at Carle Health in Nutrition Services. Her professional interests focus on weight management for adults, diabetes education and nutrition support. My role in EMPOWER is to help support and empower staff to create new ideas in order to help people stay motivated and successful in their weight loss journey.

Kristina Adams Smith, MS, RD, LDN

She has over 20 years’ experience as a registered dietitian working with patients in clinical settings. She received her bachelor and graduate degree in dietetics from Eastern Illinois University. She previously served as a media representative for the Eastern Illinois Dietetic Association for 9 years and continues to be featured on many local television segments, cooking demonstrations and print news articles. Kristina currently provides nutrition consultations for Carle Physician group and also manages her own business Sliced Right Nutrition providing cooking demonstrations, nutrition education classes as well as presentations. Her main areas of expertise have been in weight management, culinary nutrition, diabetes, heart disease, and overall wellness.

Graduate Students

Nouf Alfouzan, MS

My broad research interest is to prevent obesity and maintain healthy body weight. Specifically, I’m interested in lifestyle modification as an intervention for obesity that aimed at improving the quality of life and preventing any co-morbidity conditions. Currently, I’m a first-year PhD student in Dr. Nakamura’s lab for the iDip program. This project allows me to explore the possible solution for sustainable weight loss and thereby improve society’s health level. The iDip program can create a better tomorrow for everyone!

Jin Yu, MS, PSM

My interests focus on developing efficient and personal weight-losing methods utilizing nutritional instructions. I have experience losing 80 lbs in 7 months with similar strategy as iDIP. Life changes a lot after being healthier! Currently, I am a first year master student in Dr. Nakamura’s lab working on optimizing iDIP. Hopefully, I can share my story and help more people say goodbye to obesity.

Ashleigh Oliveira, BA

My research interest is in improving health through nutrition and lifestyle modification. I am a researcher working in Dr. Nakamura’s lab on administering proven weight loss strategies with specific focus on outreach by bridging access through app-based technology, community networks, and remote education.

Asma Yahya, MS

My research interest is  prevention of obesity and its comorbidity among adults. I’m a doctoral graduate student in Dr. Nakamura’s laboratory to develop a dietary weight loss program with a specific focus on Saudi Arabia People. This project will provide me with a great career path and help me prepare for my future to become a researcher and lecturer, and hopefully one day, as a professor. My passion is to teach people how to overcome obesity and its comorbidity by following a healthy lifestyle.

Kayla Lammy, BA

My name is Kayla Lammy. I am currently a first-year master’s student in the Food Science and Human Nutrition department, concentrating in Clinical and Community Nutrition. My goal is to become a registered dietitian. Short term, I would like to work in a clinical setting to gain medical nutrition therapy skills. Long term, I see myself working in a public health setting making nutrition education more accessible and interactive to my community of residence. I am looking forward to working in Dr. Nakamura’s lab with the EMPOWER program as it will provide me with applicable skills for my future career goals, centered around helping others improve their life through nutrition.

Undergraduate Students

Summer Intern (Community Academic Scholar 2023)

  • Kiara Balleza, Geography & Geographic Information Science

Dietetics & Nutrition

  • Vidhi Lodha
  • Nora Winters
  • Sota Sasajima

Nutrition & Health

  • Bennett Duggan
  • Yusra Ansari
  • Michelle Agyemang
  • Arela Faibisoff
  • Elias Chang

Other majors

  • Angelika Brzoziewski, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences
  • Al Dhawi Alunood, Mathermatics
  • Elias Badway, Engineering


Graduate Students

Mindy Lee, PhD, MPH, RDN, 2022

Bayer USA

My research interest involves obesity prevention and healthy weight management. It is my passion to deliver the right nutrition knowledge and help others who combat obesity as well as its associated diseases. Fortunately, I work as a doctoral graduate student and a registered dietitian nutritionist for the iDip project in Dr. Nakamura’s laboratory. This work gives me the opportunity to put my passion into action and to advance my professional development.

Annabelle Shaffer, MS, 2021

Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Class of 2025

My research interest is the prevention of obesity related co-morbidities through nutrition and lifestyle modifications. After completing my MS, I plan to attend medical school and utilize my nutrition background in patient care and decrease the need for tertiary care. The iDIP project allows me to help others combat obesity; and identify future patient care strategies for weight loss and health improvement.

Catherine Applegate, PhD, MS, RDN, 2020

Postdoctoral Fellow, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois

My primary research interests are to study the biochemical effects of dietary interventions for chronic disease prevention and treatment, with a specific focus on tomato intake and prostate cancer. I work as a full-time doctoral graduate student in another nutritional biochemistry laboratory to follow these research interests, but also work part-time in Dr. Nakamura’s laboratory as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for the iDip program. This work allows me to work with patients (rather than strictly at a lab bench!), share my nutritional knowledge, and further hone my skills as an RDN through nutrition curriculum development and undergraduate student mentoring.

Undergraduate Students


Summer Intern (Community Academic Scholar 2022)

  • Alison Brandvold, Interdisciplinary Health


  • MingYan Jiang
  • Roberto Macher

Human Nutrition

  • Katie Getz
  • Adam Syed


Summer Intern (Community Academic Scholar 2021)

  • Muskaan Sawhney, MCB

Human Nutrition

  • Tommy Pasternak
  • Jen Pochyly


  • Katie Kleinert
  • Abby Fuller
  • Bryn Grossman
  • Gwen Balto


Human Nutrition

  • Michael Klim
  • Sam Flesch
  • Mary Yang


  • Colin Marsh
  • Karly Miller
  • Arushi Bharel
  • Megan Ng



  • Sucie Chen
  • Chrison Hu
  • Debby Liu


Human Nutrition

  • Mayu Mizuki
  • Heidi Killinger
  • Tingxuan Li


  • Claire Cheng