Patrick Zeoli: Adapting to Change and Finding Support

In the beginning of 2020, during his undergraduate senior year, Patrick Zeoli had already decided to start his Master of Public Health (MPH) program immediately after graduating. He was accepted into the residential MPH program at UNC Gillings School and planned to pursue a concentration in Nutrition and Dietetics.

Then COVID-19 hit, and his plans changed.

Zeoli switched to the online MPH Nutrition and Dietetics program. A year later, the UNC-Chapel Hill campus reopened and classes resumed, but he decided to stay in the online modality to finish out his graduate degree.

“The online program at Gillings was a great option for me, because it allowed me to stay home and not fall behind after undergrad. UNC is a prestigious university that I felt carried a respected name whether classes were in person or online.”

Merging His Passion for Food and Health

Zeoli decided to pursue the Nutrition and Dietetics program so he could earn his master’s degree while fulfilling the requirements to sit for the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam.

“I have always loved food — I even considered becoming a chef. In high school, I had success in science classes, and I found that nutrition allowed me to combine my love of food with a passion for helping others.”

What appealed most to Zeoli were the various doors that the integrated master’s program could open.

“I have always been interested in nutrition,” he said, “and felt that an MPH would allow me to branch out in health care and pursue more paths if I ever wanted to do something other than nutrition.”

Building Hands-On Clinical Experience

Zeoli has completed the clinical hours for his Supervised Practice Experience at Atrium Health Union, a hospital in in Monroe, North Carolina. Next up are his public health and advanced nutrition hours, during which he’ll work with sports dietitians and rotate among clinics in the Charlotte area.

The Supervised Practice Experiences are a critical component of the program, and Zeoli shared that the Gillings faculty and staff were extremely helpful when it came time to sourcing preceptors.

“I think the biggest benefit of the Nutrition and Dietetics program is that you don’t have to find your own preceptors. This translates into less stress on the student — and you get the benefit of all the great connections that the department has already made.”

The staff made every effort to accommodate his location preferences and professional interests, and they gave him ample time to get into Area Health Education Center (AHEC) housing when he needed to temporarily relocate.

My biggest takeaway was how beneficial experiential learning is,” Zeoli reflected. “The classroom can only teach you so much. Gillings does well at placing you in areas where you can succeed, and they take your career aspirations into consideration.”

Personal Support in a Time of Change

While the last few years have looked a lot different than Zeoli anticipated, one constant has been the support that he has received as an MPH@UNC student.

“Gillings is different because the teachers and faculty seem to genuinely have the students’ interests at heart. They are personally invested in the success of every student, and I think that support goes a long way.”

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