“Project Hungry Hearts & Minds – Creating a Food Exchange Platform at Pace” has developed profoundly in the last three months. This summer has consisted primarily of finding and collecting data from various sources into one inclusive format. I combed through scholarly articles and databases on food insecurity, food waste, and food management on a four-year undergraduate campus and found supporting evidence to propose to Pace University administrators. Now I will finalize a two-page proposal which Erin Furey and I will present to Dean for Students, Marijo Russell O’Grady and Assistant Dean to Students and Director of Student Development and Campus Activities, Todd Smith-Bergollo, this upcoming September. Once approved, we can expedite our idea of creating an online platform or alert system with the purpose to connect food insecure students with leftover food from events; thus, preventing food waste. Our future steps also include building a relationship with Pace’s current food catering company Chartwells. We plan to carefully investigate specific food safety laws and regulations. In October, we will glove up and visit the end of student and staff events to weigh leftover food so we can gather numerical evidence. Eventually, if approved for human testimonials, we wish to conduct interviews with students at Pace University who are acquainted with food insecurity.
We have contacted other school officials that have a functioning food exchange platform portal but have not received any responses. In the upcoming year, we hope to receive word back and visit a university ourselves to personally ask them questions regarding how they created a successful system. In addition, the research this summer sparked a litany of questions leading Erin and me to do some basic Google searches regarding sustainability, composting, food conservation, restaurant donation programs, discounted food platforms and more.
My overall experience from this program has been very life changing. As a polymath and an artist, I have always tried to connect different ideas together. Despite this, science and math have been and still are my worst subjects. Since both are used in research projects, I pursued higher education never thinking twice of acquiring a research grant after my first year. My negative association with research has dramatically changed this summer because I learned that art majors can have a place setting at the research department table too. Due to this funded research program, I have experienced how interdisciplinary skills work. As a student with spatial and emotional intelligence, the results I yield in my research is very unique and creative.
My mentor has helped me grow as a researcher over the course of my project because she understands the emotional strain it has on me. Because I have personally experienced some of the problems I am researching, it makes my passion and results even more substantive. However, at times when it becomes too much, she is there for me to lean on. My mentor has provided encouragement when it becomes difficult but has also celebrated our successes when they occur. I’ve learned now that it is okay if I can’t end all hunger at Pace, but the fact that I am trying is what matters. I’ve learned it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to ask for help.
Furthermore, I discovered housing insecurity was also an issue with college students. When I met a stranger and he later confided in me that he had been homeless for over a year in college, it solidated my research. Now, I was able to visualize a human attesting to this particular social issue. The more I shared my research with others, the more emotional it became. This summer, someone suggested I apply to a homeless shelter as a helpful suggestion when I was having housing issues in August. This really hit a nerve. How could I take someone else’s space who needs it more? Can I be a researcher on the topics that affect me so personally? Am I the right person for this job? Can I handle it? Am I doing enough?
Research and statistics pinpoint food insecurity to be a huge issue on college campuses, especially with low-income students. When young undergraduates have no control of their financial situation, are first-generation students, or have experienced economically difficult times, they often do not prioritize health and food. How could I, as a first-generation, low-income student myself qualify for this research when I am included in this demographic?
As a result of this final reflection report, I do believe now that I can surmount the challenges. All in all, I hope the three months of summer research inspires others to keep trying. In the end, all we can really do is try the best we can with what we have and hope it works out. I am curious to see what the quantitative data the academic year will bring. In my spare time, I tried to spread the research to others by discussing it and getting their ideas. This sparked many conversations relating to agricultural sustainability and environmentally friendly lifestyles. This summer, I have been consciously thinking of the waste I produce and have been cutting back on environmentally destructive habits. My research has branched out from one idea to a series of new plans and goals. I’d like to officially thank all readers who have read the progress of my team, consisting of myself and Erin Furey, Associate Director of the LGBTQA & Social Justice Center, this summer. Specifically, I appreciate all the respondents who approached me in person or through digital communications; thank you for taking the time to validate our work.