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NIU undergraduates study food insecurity on campus and in the community

April 20, 2017

Eight NIU undergraduate students, with funding from the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, are studying food insecurity among NIU students and community members, and the role of community garden produce in addressing food insecurity among food pantry participants. The students – Kristen Amstutz, Abbi Bloedel, Jordyn Crane, John Doran (’16), Rachel Lechuga, Manuel Montalvo (’16), Marissa Nowakowski, Johna Pishko, Alexandra Shipley (’16) and Lexie Williams – from a broad interdisciplinary team, with majors including public health, anthropology, geography, environmental studies, gender studies, mathematics, and nutrition, dietetics and wellness. With a combination of surveys, observation and follow-up interviews, these students aim to “follow the trail of food” to find out how students and community members use food pantries, and to what effect community garden produce has on food pantry clients.

Two of the student-scholars will present posters about their research at the Eighth Annual NIU Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day on Tuesday, April 25, in the Holmes Student Center Duke Ellington Ballroom from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

One of the students who will present her research is Lexie Williams, a University Honors Program Lead Fellow and senior public health administration major, with a double minor in business administration and deafness rehabilitation. Williams is conducting a survey of NIU students to determine the extent to which students are experiencing food insecurity, or not having enough healthy foods available or accessible to them.

Williams says, “We are interested in what a food insecure student looks like—their demographic profile, academic status, coping strategies, etc. We are interested in finding any correlations between food insecurity and other characteristics such as race or grade point average, as we have seen in previous studies that minority students and students with lower grade point averages are at a higher risk of being food insecure.”

So far, Williams has collected about 700 responses, and she plans to keep the survey open until she obtains at least 1,000 responses. NIU students are invited to complete Williams’s survey online.

Williams has learned a lot about the research process, especially “the importance of starting early and having connections.”  She says, “The IRB (Institutional Review Board) process is of utmost importance, so you need to get started as early as possible. Having a sample that is representative of NIU is important to be able to infer certain points about [the] campus overall. This means that all minorities, majors, ages/class years, etc. should be included in the group of participants.”

Williams says that staff and faculty members have been instrumental in helping her disseminate her survey. “It has been very easy to get my information out to certain groups because the person is very willing and eager to have that group of students be represented in the research. These staff members are crucial to the success of my research, because I would not have gotten in touch with so many students otherwise.”

For more information about student research on food insecurity, contact Lexie Williams at [email protected], or faculty research advisors Dr. Kristen Borre at [email protected] or Dr. Courtney Gallaher at [email protected].