Logan's Director of Nutritional Studies Brings Worldly Experience to New Role
Dr. Weiwen Chai believes that hard work pays off.
Her two bachelor degrees, master’s degree, PhD and National Institutes of Health (NIH) post-doctoral fellowship provide ample evidence of her strong work ethic. “My parents have always told me to try my best and work hard,” she said. “I don’t think about outcomes, or whether I will fail or succeed. I focus on what I have and work hard, and that’s never failed me.”
Now, as Dr. Chai leads Logan’s newest master’s program in nutrition, she will apply her 12 years of clinical and research experience in nutrition and medicine to further the education of Logan students. As this perpetual learner instructs students on how to practice nutrition-focused chiropractic, Dr. Chai says she will also advance her own studies, further exploring chiropractic’s philosophy and technique—a concept that was neither widely accepted nor practiced in her native country of China.
A Leap of Faith
Born and raised in Shanghai, Dr. Chai received a bachelor’s degree from the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She spent two years researching Chinese medicine before deciding she needed to change her career path and surroundings.
“In the early 1990s, clinical nutrition was not that popular in China and it was not widely practiced, except for hospitals that employed dieticians,” she said. “The universities also didn’t offer any degree programs or areas of study for nutrition. But I was interested in learning more about it and combining oriental medicine and nutrition.”
A brochure for the University of Wyoming, capturing the region’s mountain views, vast landscapes and nine months of snow, grabbed Dr. Chai’s attention. This drastic move from the populated Shanghai, she thought, was the perfect solution.
At the university, Dr. Chai accepted a research assistantship, which allowed her to enroll tuition-free as a master’s degree student and have the opportunity to work as a researcher in the master’s degree program. On Dec. 31, 1993, Dr. Chai—with her only knowledge of Wyoming gleaned from a 1948 film—left Shanghai for her first trip to the United States.
“I remember making the drive from Denver to Laramie, thinking “what am I doing?”’ she said. It would take almost a full year to get acquainted with her new culture and surroundings, but her love for the wide open space was immediate.
Dr. Chai would ultimately spend more than 10 years in Wyoming, earning her master’s degree and doctorate degree, studying the effects of dietary oxalate and calcium on kidney stone formation, and finally serving as a research scientist/extension educator. With lab-based research in her back pocket, Dr. Chai was ready to apply her studies.
Raising the Bar
She accepted a NIH post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Honolulu where she spent two years researching nutritional epidemiology and studying how exposure and disease affect certain populations. Her graduate and post-doctoral research, which have led to findings including the effect of coenzyme Q10 on breast cancer, have appeared in more than 10 journal publications, including Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Journal of Urology, American Journal of Kidney Diseases, Nutrition Research, and European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Dr. Chai said it was her PhD advisor Dr. Michael Liebman, in Wyoming, and post-doctoral fellowship mentor Dr. Bob Cooney, in Hawaii, who encouraged her to publish her research. “They not only taught me a lot about research, but about holding myself to higher standards and how to be a better person. Drs. Liebman and Cooney, and my parents, provided great examples for me to follow.”
They also offered her advice when necessary. As the post-doctoral fellowship came to an end, and an opportunity to lead a new master’s degree program at a chiropractic college in Missouri emerged, it was Dr. Cooney who encouraged Dr. Chai to take it.
“He and his wife had graduated from Washington University and had good things to say about St. Louis and Missouri,” she said.
During a trip to Washington, D.C. for a conference, Dr. Chai stopped in St. Louis to meet Drs. George and Elizabeth Goodman and the job search team. She said the positive and comforting environment made it easy to accept the new challenge.
“Dr. Chai is a brilliant woman and well qualified for this position,” said Dr. Elizabeth Goodman, Logan’s dean of university programs. “We are excited that she accepted this challenge.”
A Growing Curiosity
Just five months after she arrived at Logan, Dr. Chai has successfully managed the master’s program launch and is currently focusing her energy on teaching two courses: survey of natural therapies and fundamentals of nutrition. She says she will soon begin working with faculty and students on thesis projects and internship opportunities.
When not spending her time on course instruction and coordinating the program’s curriculum, Dr. Chai said she is dedicated to learning more about chiropractic, which has included regular adjustments at Logan’s outpatient clinic.
“Working at a chiropractic college and becoming a chiropractic patient has helped me to better understand the profession and its techniques, and get to know the DCs on campus,” Dr. Chai said, adding that she appreciates all the help she’s received from the people at Logan. “What’s exciting about my role at Logan is that I have an opportunity to leverage my nutrition-based studies as a teacher while learning about chiropractic and its patient benefits.”