Impact Stories: Johanna Dwyer

Johanna DwyerAs a graduate student at Harvard University, Johanna Dwyer teamed up with her professor, the pioneering nutritionist Jean Mayer—later president of Tufts—to study the psychology of dieting and obesity. As Mayer’s interests transformed throughout the years to international nutrition, Dwyer stuck by his side, assisting him with various projects. "I became very good friends with him and his wonderful wife and family; even as a student, he treated me like a colleague," says Dwyer, director of the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, professor at Tufts School of Medicine, and senior scientist in the Office of Dietary Supplements and the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

At Tufts, Dwyer treats her students and alumni in the same manner. "Students are like colleagues," she says. "I work with them as research assistants while they are here and maintain the relationships after they graduate.” One of the benefits of the Frances Stern Dietetic Masters Degree program is that students have the chance to spend time in the classroom, the lab, and the community seeing patients and getting real, hands-on experience, she says. "With science, you can learn only so much from a book. It’s not a spectator sport; you have to actually get out there and do it."

Among other projects, Dwyer is studying how certain foods are linked to different cancers. She has been recognized for her leadership and substantial contributions to the advancement of public health and nutrition policy in the United States. She is president of two nutrition societies and a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. Dwyer credits much of her work to research from graduate students, who frequently are listed as authors on the publications.

"All the students are so great and do wonderful things in society, they are very talented people," says Dwyer.

Dwyer gives to the Frances Stern Scholarship to provide students in the internship program the research opportunities they deserve, she says. "You generally put your money where your heart is, and I know our faculty is deeply committed to the success of our students."

Dwyer came to the Friedman School just a few years after it was established and has witnessed its growth in visibility and popularity over the years. "In 1974, when I came to Tufts as a lonely nutrition scientist and clinical nutritionist, I never thought that 35 years later I would have more than 100 world-class colleagues, access to superb labs, and a wonderfully friendly Friedman School on Harrison Ave, right here in the middle of Boston," she says.