Project Hungry Hearts & Minds – Creating a Food Exchange Platform at Pace – Final Report

“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.

 

Next Steps in the Bread Crumb Trail

Katharine M. Broton and Sara Goldrick-Rab collectively wrote Going Without: An Exploration of Food and Housing Insecurity Among Undergraduates last year. Their data pertains to our research on Hungry Hearts & Minds – Creating a Food Exchange Platform at Pace University, because it exposes evidence of the problem and highlights our main goal for this project: to create an online platform or alert system with the primary purpose to connect food insecure students with leftover food from events, thus preventing food waste. “Data from more than 30,000 two- and 4-year college students indicate that approximately half are food insecure…” which motivates our team’s next plan of action.

We have reached out to other institutions and have not received word back. Despite this obstacle, Erin and I have grown a resilient bond and we are really appreciative of all the feedback we have received thus far. Our research helped us generate a list of questions that will help us in our next steps. Our goal is for the questions to help us when we eventually discuss with other institutions, create a final proposal to address Pace officials to start initiatives on this campus, and deal with the actual food waste. Our next step is to begin the measurement of all the food waste on campus. In October, we will visit the end of student events and general student body events and calculate how many pounds of leftover food there is. Eventually, we will get our questions answered and have clarity on achieving the project.

We hope to contact other universities that have active food waste programs, we’d also like to develop a relationship with Chartwells and other stakeholders at Pace, and get approval at Pace University to create a food waste program. We want to gain resources to create the food waste program, decide on an interface for the program, launch the program, and then access the usage of the program.

Lastly, I have been sharing all of my work. When I bring up in casual conversation about my findings as a food insecurity and waste management researcher, I began to get a series of mixed responses. It is refreshing when others are able to advise me on a particular topic like sustainable living because my research sparked an idea or thought. And this summer, focusing on this one social justice issue has redefined how I present and contribute to Pace and the world. Sustainability is the key concept I have learned and hope we can interject that into our platform.

To find my research engages with others is an emotionally draining yet rewarding experience. I have absorbed many student testimonials and learned about other’s personal struggles as a result of the project. I never considered myself to be a researcher prior to this project despite always being on the hunt for new solutions and ideas. This project is teaching me that being a social researcher is possible and that my spatial intelligence, creativity, and personal experiences help profoundly.

 

 

No More Noods: Addressing Food Insecurity At Pace University

Let’s cut to the chase. Food and water is a basic need. It is quintessential for our human existence that we continue to nourish and enrich our bodies with healthy food options. And at Pace University, it has been evident that there lacks priority for food insecure students and the proper food waste management after events. In most cases for college students, it can be unaffordable and/or infeasible to eat well-balanced meals or to even eat period. How can students even begin to focus their energies and brainpower into critical thinking and decision making for their individual Pace Paths when being broke, ramen noodle-fueled machines is something to be expected and laughed about? When the unfathomable cost of higher education is enough of a burden on students, they often have no choice but to watch their grades and produce papers that are only seen by the eyes of the professor to maintain their academic status. Keeping scholarships consumes students’ minds, it can be one stressor that makes it simply too easy to not consume healthy foods because of food costs, busy schedules, and low meal plan.

Thus, let’s stop making jokes about broke college students, starving artists, and cooking ramen noodles because that’s all students know how to make. Let’s show students how to prepare. Let’s address these issues and find possible solutions for incoming struggling food insecure victims to find resources on this campus.

After pursuing the interest of food insecurity and researching, I was surprised that students experience this from various different colleges around the world. As a researcher personally impacted by food insecurity, I too can relate to the thousands of hungry adolescents that are silently suffering from the hunger pangs and loud grumbling during classes or in between their daily commutes. The articles and data prove how so many students across the nation have to squander their creative energies in order to survive. Imagine the possibility and the tangible results of healthy students if we could eliminate food from their platter of worries. It is significant to be mindful and open to students who have different struggles then us and to see things from their perspective. Imagine if you were a food insecure person at a four-year academic institution and how that would impact your physical, psychological, mental, and social health. For some, food is considered a privilege, a luxurious indulgence of which does not cross the conscious mind. For others, it is canned tuna and water. It is being turned down from food stamps because they are an independent, non-resident. It is going to bed hungry because Pace University does not have fully functioning kitchens. It is skipping breakfast and sitting on the express E train at 8 am squeezing campus events that promise free food onto one’s itinerary between work and class for a quick bite to eat. It is the inability to call mom or dad begging for more food money. It is the inability to go out with friends for gelatos because your saving for new textbooks and lab supplies

So let’s be more mindful. We never know the battles every human being has fought. Specifically, data showcases that more and more first-generation, low-income students possess an insatiable hunger to pursue education and create change in the world when they arrive on campus. If one had previously struggled with food before obtaining a high school diploma, the problem is likely to follow. College is just a different battleground for the same draining fight. World hunger is a well-aged issue that continues to ferment and college is just one particular life stage where adults are susceptible to financially hard times and could unexpectedly find themselves deciding between school materials or dinner. As if multiple choice exams were not hard enough. Most students imagine getting selected to attend a university, arriving, and beginning their journey is enough to solve the problem. In the last decade, research has surfaced articulating food insecurity as a real threat to college students. For some students, they have worked their entire lives for the chance to turn their lives around at a college institution. Sacrifices and priorities for grades have been made over health in order to have a seat at the college cafe table.  And meal plan money will run out eventually. Hallways replace food lines as the forgotten student scavengers roam the campus ecosystem awaiting events or seeking leftover food. Additionally, another problem boils down to inefficient and infective food budget calculations for upcoming events. There is a lack of budgeting workshops and money management for catered events resulting in a tendency for the full budget allocated towards one event to be used up. This means the excessively ordered food will inevitably gets tossed out because it is not eaten or taken.

It’s time to stop ignoring or stigmatizing this issue. All human beings deserve the right to have access to healthy food and clean water on every single country and every faraway region. It is a shame that at a prestigious four-year college such as Pace University, there is little assistance to students who really need food.

At the New York City campus, I hope we can begin to acknowledge the brevity of food insecurity and implement a concrete way to mitigate the issue. Every student here is worth it! Every student deserves food and water! Every well-nourished successful student would be able to display pride and honor in affiliation with Pace University without hungry stomaches.

Our research team includes myself, Janvi Patel, and Erin Furey, director of LGBTQA+ and Social Justice Center at Pace University. We have combined forces and concocted a recipe for success. We do not plan to glaze over this issue lightly; instead, have the mindset to produce an effective food exchange platform or portal that will alert students to left-over food at Pace University that other universities can replicate to solve student hunger and food waste. Since food and beverages collect in wastebaskets after staff and student events, we anticipate hundreds of pounds of food gets tossed away without the blink of an eye. We plan to glove up and measure the discards. Additionally, our litany of goals includes creating a literature review of our findings for publication, talking to other universities on how they tackle student hunger on their campus, partnering with Chartwells and the kitchen staff to see what happens after food is taken away, learning about food safety rules, and presenting our work at North American Student Affairs Professionals Conference (NASAPC) and several others. Our end goal is to not just look at food being wasted but get the waste to hungry students through an online app portal. Titled “Hungry Hearts & Minds – Creating a Food Exchange Platform at Pace University,” we estimate the preparation time to take up many hours, but we anticipate our findings to yield aid to thousands of hungry mouths and mal-nourished brains.