In her observations of various people she’s encountered, both in her classes and in other countries, Dr. Georganne Syler is acutely aware of a shared behavioral characteristic.
“Everybody eats,” Syler said. “It’s the common denominator.”
Syler, who is a registered and licensed dietitian and an associate professor of human environmental studies at Southeast, keeps food and nutrition in mind at home and abroad.
“I have a real interest in international and world food, and it’s really enriched my classes,” she said. “Wherever I go, I look at the cuisine, go to the grocery stores, look at the nutritional profile, see how food’s prepared, do a little research and find out what’s the major cause of disease and mortality in a country. Everywhere I go, I get to research nutrition, and I bring that back to my students.”
Syler may have a taste for exotic foods, but she is totally homegrown, having attended Cape Central High School before enrolling in classes at Southeast. Few would argue she made the most of the educational opportunities offered by the University at the time.
“The neat thing about that time period was you could take as many hours as you wanted for a flat rate,” Syler said. “It was $80 per semester, so every semester I took 21 hours. In three and a half years I had 152 hours. I ended up with a major in home economics, but I also had enough hours for minors in French and art.”
Syler also practiced her French while studying in Quebec. She says a functional knowledge of French is handy, from a culinary point of view, since much of the history of food in the Western world comes from France.
“At least I can pronounce the stuff,” she said.
She’s a person who believes you should “do something good where you are.”
The academic environment has long captivated her; she says she has a lot of experience in school and loved being a student.
“I have some sympathy with students because I was a student for so long ᾰ from age six to 47,” she said. “After Southeast, I got a doctorate in community health at SIU- Carbondale.”
Syler also teaches public health and strives to bring health (and nutrition) to the public.
“I see my job here at the University very much as that of a public service,” she said. She gives free nutritional advice to church groups, sports teams and cheerleaders, to name a few.
“Nutrition is a hot topic. Somebody calls every week saying, ‘Come talk to me about food. Will you talk to us about sports nutrition? I’m worried about my bones, so will you analyze my diet?’”
For the last two years, once a month, Syler and radio host Tom Harte have done a free,
two-hour broadcast of the “Café Concerto” program at Schnucks grocery store to raise
money for KRCU 90.9 FM radio. Schnucks donates the food and $200 to KRCU for each
broadcast. So, in the course of a year, Syler and Harte raise $2,400 for the station.
“We do a two-hour long food demo, where we both do the food,” Syler said, “but I try to sneak some nutrition in with Tom’s whipping cream and butter.”
Syler teaches Food Selection and Preparation, Advanced Foods, Nutrition for Health, Lifespan Nutrition and Quantity Food Preparation. And she plans to keep teaching.
“One of my goals is to never quit teaching, “she said. “I want to stay alive and vital and keep building our programs and the University as a whole, and let people know what a gem this place is.”
She says she is proud of the people working in the Department of Human Environmental Studies, how they all combine strong human services background with a compassionate, nurturing side. She says they’re all teachers, that they believe in what they’re doing, that they all do research, but they’re teachers first. Syler’s regard for her colleagues seems rivaled only by that which she holds for Southeast.
“It is an honor to teach at your own alma mater,” she said. “I’m very proud of this institution and what it stands for.”