Mary S. Willis


Dr. Mary S. Willis is a Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences at the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Dr. Willis was awarded an MA and a PhD in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1991 and 1995 respectively.  A Science and Diplomacy Fellow with AAAS from 1995-1997, Dr. Willis worked within USAID’s Office of Population, Health and Nutrition providing technical assistance to health programs worldwide.  She has traveled and worked in Asia, Africa and South America for 40 years, conducting health and bio-cultural research in a variety of settings.  Dr. Willis became a member of the UNL faculty in January of 2000 working within the Department of Anthropology.  In 2012, she joined the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, broadening the scope of her teaching and research, and became a Daugherty Water for Food Institute Faculty Fellow.  She now emphasizes biocultural approaches to food and nutrition, as well as global food security, in all of her academic endeavors.  Dr. Willis began her UNL career studying Nebraska’s refugee populations from South Sudan, the Nuer and the Dinka.  Her work focused on the dentition and diet of these refugee populations as they transitioned from one culture context to another.  While she continues to work with refugees, she has developed an education abroad program on food security, health and nutrition with funding from a USDA NIFA International Science and Education grant.  Since 2014, she has accompanied undergraduates to Ethiopia to study food security, health, and nutrition, and examine the impact of under-nutrition on growth-related sequelae within rural farming populations.  Dr. Willis employs a holistic approach to food and nutrition research; hence she studies whole body health and incorporates both biological and cultural, but also archaeological and linguistic perspectives into the research design.  She continues to emphasize populations in transition and collaborates with colleagues on a variety of research projects in the US and in Ethiopia.



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