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Childhood nutrition close to UNF student's heart

The Student Nutrition Dietetic Association president stands in a market with fruit.
Senior Dwayne Swinton inspires struggling students. He’s making huge strides — for himself, his school and his community. His transformation coincided with his acceptance to UNF two years ago at age 27. Now president of the Brooks College of Health’s Student Nutrition Dietetic Association, he aims to be a registered dietitian focusing on community and pediatric nutrition.

Swinton commutes from his home near Daytona Beach, where he spent nearly a decade taking classes at Daytona State College, accumulating student debt and switching majors. He studied business to prepare for becoming a manager at Publix, where he worked. But it was largely past weight issues and a family history of high blood pressure and diabetes that he said sparked his interest in good health and nutrition. “If I can help fix the childhood obesity issue, that’s what I want to do,” he said.

In 2013, Swinton started with himself, working out, eating right and dropping nearly 100 pounds. With newfound confidence despite some past academic struggles, he applied to UNF, his girlfriend’s alma mater.

“I came in struggling,” he said, “and eventually earned respect.” Swinton buckled down with a clear focus, passing most classes with ease and significantly increasing his GPA. Challenges in a chemistry class, however, linked him with Debbie Kochanowski, Brooks' assistant director of advising, a stroke of fate that impacted his entire academic career.

“I call her my UNF Mom,” Swinton said of Kochanowski, who still mentors him. “She helped me so much. I did not want to get kicked out of this school. No one from my family ever graduated from college. I want to be that person.”

“Dwayne has the undeniable determination to always strive to be a better student and person,” Kochanowski said. “When faced with a challenge, he figures out what it takes to solve it whether they are related to academics or some other area. It is exciting to see him so passionate about his goals and how he has created this path to reach them.”

Through UNF’s community outreach, Swinton connected with The Bridge of Northeast Florida where he coordinates the children’s community garden, and with Gateway Community Services Inc., where he assists people receiving treatment for addictive disorders. A summer study trip to Brazil was his only time outside of Florida.

“Without UNF I never would have realized my talents,” Swinton said, “I never thought I'd hear the Dean of Brooks College say, ‘Dwayne, how is everything going?’”