A Cal State Fullerton group working to provide students with community-based, hands on research was awarded the New York Life Higher Education Civic Engagement award for its work in sustainable nutrition and agriculture.
CSUF’s Urban Agriculture Community-based Research Experience program was one of five universities nationwide to win the award for 2014. As part of the award, the program received $20,000 in scholarship funds to send up to four students to take part in the Washington Center’s Academic Internship program.
The Research Experience program gives groups of students the chance to work with Ladera Vista Junior High School, Pathways of Hope transitional living center, the Orange County Food Access Coalition and other groups to help address real-world issues while simultaneously gaining real-world experience.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for students to not only get involved in research, but actually apply that research to the community,” said Lidia Orozco, a psychology major in the U-ACRE program.
As criteria for winning the award, the Washington Center requires awardees to show leadership and innovation in defining and addressing issues of public concern, vision for change that is systemic and sustainable and depth and breadth of institutional commitment, according to the center’s website.
Andrew Shensky, a geography and anthropology major, works with Ladera Vista Junior High School in the school’s garden. Using the garden, students can participate in agriculture tutorials.
Shensky created an app for students to record their data and find plant information. Through that app, he said, students will be able to get more out of their time in the garden.
“There’s kind of a separation between their food and where it actually comes from,” Shensky said. “Having the app and the garden, they’re experiencing the garden and looking at things, but now they can look up information about the plant that’s right there.”
Other program participants have extended their research beyond the garden to help students put healthier food on the table.
Xiomara Solis, an anthropology major, is aiming to instill better eating habits through cooking classes, she said.
“The whole idea of my project is to be able to make healthy meals in the same amount of time that it would take you to go to Jack in the Box,” Solis said.
Solis became interested in researching this topic when she noticed many people her age lacked basic cooking knowledge, she said.
“I see cooking skills as such a primary thing,” Solis said. “There’s a perception that cooking is hard, that it can be frustrating, it can be expensive thing to do, and it can be if it’s not properly thought about.”
Solis is in the process of contacting local chefs to get involved in the project, she said.
U-ACRE has been nationally recognized for helping facilitate student research—the program has helped more than 13,000 students become involved in the community by facilitating courses and volunteer service.
“Sometimes you think you have to go somewhere else to make a difference,” Solis said. “It’s kind of like, ‘create the community you want to live in’ and that’s part of U-ACRE.”