Keecha Harris isn’t sure why – or even if – she chose the field of dietetics.
“Maybe I chose dietetics,” she said. “But being an entrepreneur, I think it chose me. It was clear that I wanted to do something, but I wasn’t always quite sure what.”
And then one day in her community nutrition class at Iowa State, Harris remembers chuckling.
“The thought came to my mind that I really want to touch the lives of thousands of people, but I don’t want to see them,” she laughs. “I had no concept of public health at the time. I did not know that there was actually such a thing, and I can remember thinking, ‘You really are crazy, and you should stop listening to the voices in your head!’ But I knew in that class that this was what I wanted to do.”
Harris is now president of Keecha Harris & Associates, a public health consulting firm, and she works on issues such as food and nutrition, community development, rural development, and educational policy.
Originally from Atmore, Ala., Harris came to Iowa State as part of the Women in Science and Engineering program. She started as an industrial engineering major, but after about six weeks in that program she recalls walking out of a drafting class: “I had on my orange dress and my gold sandals, and I was like, ‘This is not for me.’ I wanted something with people. I had always been very interested in food, in cooking, in nutrition, and, to some extent, health. So I went to nutritional science but switched to dietetics, and that was my place.”
Harris graduated from Iowa State in 1996 and went on to earn both a master’s and PhD in public health from the University of Alabama Birmingham. She is a former national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and an internationally recognized nutrition columnist for msn.com. She was named a 2010 “Top 40 Under 40” by the Birmingham Business Journal.
In her current role, Harris travels throughout the United States – she estimates she travels at least 140,000 miles a year – helping to improve the quality of services provided to people in health, education, and life skills resources. Home is now Birmingham, a city she values for its food, cultural activities, and “a really fabulous YMCA.”