MATC’s Outstanding Degree Graduate Wants World to Eat Better, Live Longer

Student in Nutrition and Dietetic Technician program will speak at Spring Commencement

Mark Feldmann,

May 15, 2024

Cheron Copeland

Nutrition is my thing. My purpose is to help other people have a healthy relationship with food.

Cheron Copeland MATC Outstanding Degree Student and Student Speaker, Spring 2024

With an almost evangelical zeal and an infectious optimism, Cheron Copeland spreads the message — far and wide — of how eating better can lead to living longer.

While in high school in Tennessee, Copeland started a healthy and fit club, introducing her classmates to yoga and improved food habits. While waitressing in Chicago, she helped customers make sure their dining experiences were healthy and memorable. As a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College, she presented research to a state group on how hands-on experience can help students promote positive lifestyle changes.

“Nutrition is my thing,” Copeland said. “My purpose is to help other people have a healthy relationship with food. People are living longer, and they want to be active, alert and awake. That starts with a healthy diet. I like to say we should try to eat to live.”

Now, Copeland is closer to sharing her message with the rest of the world. She will receive an associate degree from MATC’s Nutrition and Dietetic Technician program on Sunday, May 19, during the college’s commencement at Fiserv Forum. Copeland, who was named Outstanding Degree Student for her achievements in the classroom and in the community, will serve as student speaker.

“Each time you speak with her, you are made to feel as though you are a dear friend or family member,” said Heidi Katte, lead faculty and program chair of the college’s Nutrition and Dietetic Technician program. “This connectedness to another person, and her ability to quickly develop rapport with others, is a rare quality and a key feature of hers that will take her far in the professional world.”

Copeland first learned the power of nutrition in high school when she shadowed a dietitian. She watched a patient die after not following the advice of nutrition professionals.

“I was shocked at how this person didn’t care about eating healthy and didn’t care about changing habits,” she remembered. “When you do that, you can go into crisis. That’s when I really became interested and fascinated with prevention.”

In 2019, she moved to Chicago and worked at numerous restaurants in various roles. As a waitress, she helped customers navigate gluten-free options and potential food allergies. “Even then, I was guiding people through their food choices,” she said.

She learned about MATC’s Nutrition and Dietetic Technician program; in November 2021, she quit working, moved to Milwaukee and enrolled in the college.

“At MATC, I immediately felt a warmth,” Copeland said. “At times I was confused, lost and scared, but my instructors and support personnel were always full of hope and help. I never felt like I was facing a closed door.”

She quickly distinguished herself as a stellar student, an ambitious, developing professional, and a dedicated volunteer. 

“In class, she asked questions to learn and inform her classmates,” Katte said. “She shared her excellent food service experiences as well as her nutrition expertise to the benefit of others, including myself. 

“In my 13 years teaching at MATC, I can confidently say Cheron is the best student that I have ever had the opportunity to work with,” Katte added. 

She served as a student representative on the college’s Housing & Food Security Committee, organized a book club through Student Life, and participated in the Black Student Union. She helped prepare and serve meals to the less fortunate at Divine Mercy Catholic Church in South Milwaukee. 

“Cheron has always been more than just a student; she's a leader who consistently goes the extra mile,” said Kyle Hayden, a student services specialist at MATC. “Her innovative approaches, bold initiatives and fierce determination have made her a role model in our community.” 

While taking classes at MATC, Copeland worked as a nutrition education coordinator at the Milwaukee Center for Independence and learned how to communicate about general nutrition while serving as a social media manager for Sarah Muhammad, a registered dietitian.

She also was the college’s student representative to the Wisconsin Academy of Nutritionists and Dieticians, or WAND. She won WAND’s Outstanding Dietetic Technician Student award in 2023. At the group’s annual convention in Oshkosh in April, Copeland presented a poster and placed second. She was the only technical college student to submit an entry.

“I was going against students who were getting their bachelor’s degrees and their master’s degrees,” she said. “Taking second place meant a lot and really boosted my personal confidence.”

In the fall, Copeland will start classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to earn a bachelor’s degree in nutrition sciences and, eventually, a master’s degree in public health nutrition, on the way to becoming a Registered Dietitian. At UWM she received a Froedtert Memorial Hospital Scholarship, which provides healthcare students with help in covering costs necessary to complete their degree, including tuition, required books and supplies, and licensure exams. 

“I was very excited to get that scholarship,” she said. “It was extremely helpful for me.”

She also knows her path to success started at MATC. “Initially, I came to MATC on a chance because they had a nutrition program and it could be a good fit,” she said. “I said I'd give the program one semester to see how it goes.

“I chose to stay because the program reignited a dream that I had long believed was impossible to achieve,” she added. “I stayed because of the engaging courses, supportive staff, open opportunities and the belief that I could be the dietetic professional I always wanted to be.” 

Learn about MATC’s Nutrition and Dietetic Technician program

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.