Faculty Spotlight: Vanessa Wielenga

Vanessa Wielenga
Meet Vanessa Wielenga, associate Extension Educator in nutrition and health sciences.
May 9, 2022

About Vanessa

I am a caring and curious person who wants to leave the world a better place than when I entered it. As a registered dietitian I have been able to improve the lives of others through nutrition support programs over the last eight years. Lincoln has been my home for close to 18 years and I am originally from the L.A. area. Most of my family lives there still so I love to use my vacation days to get back to Cali. I am a daughter, sister, mother and [still] a granddaughter. My grandma will be 98 this year and her dad lived to 105 so I try to take care of myself to live my likely long life to the fullest. I enjoy finding new ways to care for myself emotionally, physically and spiritually.

What is your position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

I am an Extension Educator who focuses on food access challenges facing low-resource Nebraskans. I run the Nebraska Double Up Food Bucks program which incentivizes people to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from locally owned and operated grocery stores, keeping our food dollars in our local economies.

What drew you to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

It’s the only game in town if you want to make a difference across the entire state! I got my undergrad and graduate degree at UNL so it feels like home.

What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?

The support of my business office and grant specialist!! Shout out to Spencer Hall, I could not do it without him!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Double Up Food Bucks! I started the program as a pilot in Lincoln with four locations in 2017 with a great group of partners and donations from Children’s Hospital and CHI Health. It has since grown to 11 sites with three more launching this year. Support for the program now includes a USDA grant, Sherwood Foundation grant, donations from Children’s and CHI, private donations and at least five other grants and contracts. It is a lot to keep track of and manage for just one person so I rely a lot on county Extension offices, our community-based partners, and all the wonderful farmers, market managers, grocery store owners, and SNAP recipients to keep the program running. Maybe my greatest accomplishment is really convening and maintaining a great team of talented, kind and smart humans!

What is something that most people don't know about you? 

I am an avid reader of science fiction, especially written by Black women. I love Octavia Butler (my fave), Adrienne Maree Brown, and N.K. Jemisin.

What is your life like outside of work?

If you would have asked me this two years ago the answer would most certainly be different. Now I spend a lot of time focusing my energy on quality time with my loved ones, rest, and unlearning a lot of the socialization I was subject to growing up in white supremacy, sexism, ableism, and anti-LGBTQ-ness. My rest and grounding practice includes growing my own food, crafting with my son, spending time with people who make me feel good, watching silly reality shows, meditating, therapy, cooking lavish meals, playing complicated board games and puzzling. I love jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and sudoku.