The nutrition community is made up of individuals with diverse experiences, perspectives, and ideas. This diversity is the fundamental strength of our professional society. Through this member spotlight series, we celebrate our diversity and the vast achievements made by our members in the field.

Meet ASN Member, Dr. Malden Nesheim, an esteemed Fellow of ASN and the namesake of the prestigious, recently announced, Malden Nesheim Nutrition Landscape Award. This prestigious award, in partnership with Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, will debut in 2025, recognizing a Journal of Nutrition article published in 2024 that offers critical review or perspective on emerging or significant topics in nutrition science. In the following broader membership spotlight, we delve into Dr. Nesheim’s remarkable career and his contributions to the field. 

Pictured with Dr. Nesheim is Dr. Marian Nestle, who is also a long time ASN member.

Please introduce yourself – feel free to share anything you would like us to know about you, including personal interests outside of your profession.

I’ve been a member of ASN since 1961 when I was an Assistant Professor of Animal Nutrition at Cornell University.  I retired from Cornell in 1997 as Provost after a long career as Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences an intercollege academic unit.

I like to call myself a farm boy from Illinois.  I was one of 8 children who grew up on a 170-acre family farm near Rochelle Illinois.  I attended the University of Illinois where I obtained a BS degree in agricultural science and an MS in Animal Science.  After 2 years in the United States Air Force I enrolled at Cornell for a Doctorate in Animal Nutrition in 1956.

I was involved in early experiments to identify selenium as an essential nutrient.  When I finished my graduate program, Cornell invited me to take an assistant professor position  in the poultry science department.  For the next few years, I studied genetic variations in arginine and lysine metabolism in chickens as well as some aspects of poultry digestive physiology.

In 1972, I took sabbatical leave at the University of Cambridge in the UK to work with Kenneth Carpenter.  There, I met a young parasitologist, David Crompton, who was interested in parasitic worms inhabiting the GI tract.  His interests complemented mine in digestive physiology, and we began collaborating to define the environment for these parasites and their potential effects on the nutrition of the host.  We pursued these interests during Crompton’s visits to Cornell and my further sabbaticals at Cambridge in 1972 and 1983.  These led to a career-long collaboration on nutritional aspects of parasitic infections carried out in the laboratory and in international settings.

In 1974, Cornell organized a Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS) to integrate nutrition programs on the campus and I was appointed its first Director, a position I held until 1987 when I became Vice President for Planning and Budgeting.  In 1989, I was named Cornell’s Provost, a position I held until 1995. While I was DNS director, I had the opportunity to be involved broadly in the nutrition community, serving on many USDA and NIH committees and programs, among them chair of the NIH nutrition study section, 9 years on the Food and Nutrition Board, and chair of the 1990 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.  Following my retirement from Cornell, I chaired the Presidential Commission on Dietary Supplements (1997) and a National Academies study to develop a Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System, among others.

What drew you to the field of nutrition science, research, and practice? What led you to become involved with ASN?

When I was at the University of Illinois as an undergraduate, my older brother, Robert Nesheim, was a graduate student in animal nutrition.  I would often help him with some of his research on B12 requirements of baby pigs—my introduction to the process and pleasures of doing research.  This was an exciting time in nutrition research.  Individual nutrients were being discovered one after another along with their structure and function and their role in animal and human health. This led to my decision to do graduate study.

My advisor at Illinois, Gene Becker, encouraged me to do my PhD at Cornell.  There, I was introduced to the American Institute of Nutrition when I attended FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) meetings (AIN was a member of the Federation) in the days when they were held each year in Atlantic City.  The opportunity to meet researchers in the field, to present short papers describing research, and to hear issues presented in symposia by leaders in the field was invaluable to my own development as a scientist.

How has your career developed as a result of being an ASN member? Highlight specific resources and benefits that have helped you achieve your goals. What advice would you give to ASN members looking to advance in their careers or take risks for their professional development?

My work with the AIN was critical to the development of my career.  AIN meetings and The Journal of Nutrition helped keep me abreast of developments in the field.  I was at various times a member of the AIN Council and the President of AIN 1985-1986, and I served on the Editorial Board of The Journal of Nutrition and chaired the Fellows Committee; these activities kept me broadly acquainted with the whole field of nutrition.  The insights were invaluable in helping me provide leadership in my role as Director of the Cornell Division of Nutritional Sciences.

Who are some of the individuals that influenced you and what events or opportunities would you attribute to your academic and professional success?

Several individuals have been important to my career, beginning with my brother, Bob Nesheim, who introduced me to a career in nutrition research.  H.H. Mitchell’s teaching at the University of Illinois was an inspiration.  My PhD advisor, Milton Scott at Cornell, gave me strong support.  My collaboration with David Crompton, first at Cambridge and later at the University of Glasgow, led to a major theme in my research career—the examination of the role of parasitic infections in environments where malnutrition flourishes.

How can ASN, as an organization of individual members, help current and future scientists find career growth opportunities?

ASN through its meetings, journals, and service opportunities provides the glue that holds the field together.  The Society highlights career opportunities, provides outlets to share results of research, and contributes to the development of new generations of researchers, teachers, and leaders.  It’s been integral to my career, a source of enormous collegiality, and I could not be more appreciative of my more than 60 years of membership and leadership.