Meet Maita Lee, 2016 Dietetics alumni of St. Kate’s. Her sense of humor and outlook on life is incredibly contagious, as Lee tells me how she got to where she is today. Follow along to find out more!
Mandy Hay: First things first– what does a day in the life of Maita Lee look like?
Maita Lee: I wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy… just kidding! I typically work an 8-hour day. I’m one of the full-time supervisors at the Saint Paul Ramsey County Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). During the pandemic, I worked from home but am starting to go back into the office as we transition to work in person.
A cup of black coffee is a must for me to start my workday. Late-night studies during college got me addicted to coffee. After I’ve had my caffeine intake, the first thing I do for work is check up on emails and get up-to-date with any new information. Then I start working on assigned projects. Some projects I’m working on right now include WIC clinic renovations and different outreach activities.
In between projects and emails, I support staff and answer questions. When issues come up, I help to resolve them. This includes concerns that WIC participants may have, questions staff has about the appointment process and more.
I’m also currently the Director of the Diversity Inclusion Equity and Belonging (DIEB) Committee for the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (MAND), a non-profit organization. Seasonally, I work on political campaigns, and I also do individual contract work with individuals and restaurants on diet planning and menu reviews as the work comes.
MH: Wow, it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate! How did you become interested in the field of nutrition and dietetics, and how did that lead you to St. Kate’s?
ML: I come from a big family with five other siblings. My parents immigrated from a Thailand refugee camp to California in the 90’s. We moved to Minnesota when I was 3 years old, so I’ve spent most of my life here. I graduated from Roseville Area High School and was always very active in community engagement and advocacy there. I started working on political campaigns when I was 16 years old, and I spent lots of time working at the Ramsey County Maplewood Library during high school.
For college, I decided to look for schools in the twin cities. I liked that St. Kate’s was an all-female school and I found it unique. I felt that it would be a place to help me grow. It also helped that my mom loved the campus. She went on a tour with me and marveled at the flowers and buildings. She loved the chapel. I remember our conversation:
Mom: This place is beautiful. You can come pray here Maita.
Me: What? We don’t pray in our religion though.
Mom: That’s okay, you can come here and pray. The tour lady said it’s for anyone.
Obviously, I decided to come here and I was right about thinking it would help me grow. I have changed a lot since entering St. Kate’s as a first-year student. I felt my perspectives and attitudes mature, and I became more confident in myself as a leader.
I decided on dietetics because I had an interest in food and nutrition. Growing up, eating was mostly for survival and avoiding hunger; my family was poor. Many other immigrant groups go through the same thing. Now that different communities are getting settled into the U.S., we can focus on eating for health. I wanted to start with the Hmong community in healthy eating and understanding nutrition in relation to health. It’s a challenge because many words don’t exist in the Hmong language so explaining is difficult. Now I work with many different communities educating them about nutrition and health.
MH: That’s really interesting! Were you involved in anything else during your time at St. Kate’s?
ML: I was! I actually minored in communication journalism because I love to share news and information. I did a variety of things both in and outside of school such as news-reporting videos, freelance writing, outreach, and presentations to the surrounding community, along with other miscellaneous projects. I would love to consider a journalism career in the future.
As far as other campus involvement, I was a part of the Student Senate, the Asian Women Association (AWA), and the LEAD Team. Additionally, I held the position of MIPS Peer Mentor, Orientation Leader, and Commuter Advisor. I was a part of Kappa Omicron Nu, which is the National Honor Society for the Human Sciences and I worked at the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery art building as the receptionist student supervisor. I was also a student-athlete; I ran sprints for the Track & Field team!
MH: Holy buckets, you sure were involved! When you think back to your college experience, does any particular memory pop out as a favorite?
ML: Graduation day! Haha, just kidding. There really isn’t one particular memory that stands out, but I did love the Dew Drop Bop and attended every year while I was at St. Kate’s with my family. It was a great way to be with the kids, and to show my family the St. Kate’s campus in a fun way.
MH: After college, is there any specific experience you would like to share with readers?
ML: Last year, I was temporarily transferred to the COVID-19 Incident Command Team at Ramsey County Public Health from April 2020-March 2021 before returning to WIC.
During that time, I worked as a community liaison for the Hmong and Karen Cultural Community Engagement Team. I worked on outreach for COVID-19 testing and education, specifically geared towards the Hmong community. I also worked with several different organizations and community leaders to help the community decrease COVID-19 infection rates.
One project I worked on was reaching out to BIPOC businesses, organizations, churches, adult day-cares, and grocery stores to provide public health resources such as flyers, masks, floor decals, and public service announcements.
I also worked at our testing sites directing traffic, interpreting, and providing education. Another project I worked on was creating a weekly newsletter of COVID-19 news and resources that is sent out to different organizations and leaders.
MH: It looks like you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt! Do you have any advice to share with current St. Kate’s students?
ML: There is so much to say! First, schedule meals and rest times. Balance life in a way that brings out the best in your work and health. When I was in college, I got so busy squeezing work, classes, organizations, and more into my calendar that I forgot eating and resting is also an important part of my day. I learned it the hard way.
On top of that advice, take the time to research what St. Kate’s has to offer and make use of the resources and opportunities. You’re paying so much in tuition, so make it worth it!
Get involved and try new things even if you’re uncomfortable. This is the time to make mistakes!