CARC Student Researchers Rise to the Occasion in Addressing Access to Healthy Food
September 9 – A USDA funded Capacity Building Grant Project entitled “Building a Transformative Learning Culture through Infusing Research-Based Learning Experiences” afforded 10 students from diverse majors to engage in a fun-filled summer work/research experience collaboratively.
As it was referred to throughout the summer, “Project TLC” allowed each student to work alongside a research scientist, but students also formed a team to focus on a real-world issue, specifically how to produce and potentially provide access to healthy and nutritious food. The availability of fresh and healthy foods is a challenge to find in cities today, especially the City of Prairie View. Project TLC student researchers attended the Houston Urban Food Conference along with Interim Executive Research Director, Alfred L. Parks, Project TLC Principal Investigator Laura Carson, Research Assistant Debra Bradford and Research Specialist III, Subhani Bandara. It was at this meeting that the Project TLC researchers became interested in hosting a similar event as their summer ending project. On August 1, 2019, the students presented their research finding in poster format and then led CAHS’ first Community Garden Expo event at the Carden-Waller Cooperative Extension Building.
Project TLC student researchers remained engaged throughout the entire day of activities starting with TLC students, Jayla LaDay and Reggie Jackson both providing the welcome address. CAHS Dean Gerard D’Souza delivered greetings, while two dynamic speakers mesmerized the crowd of approximately 100 guests as both showed a passion for their tireless efforts to improve the lives of PVAMU students and the surrounding communities that we serve. Dr. Deland Myers, Director of the Integrated Food Security Research Center (IFSRC), spoke about the impact of food security and explained that there is no such thing as ‘junk food,’further indicating that everything has nutritional value. Dr. Tondra Moore, Executive Director of Student Health Services, spoke about the Hilltop Reserve Food Pantry and the purpose for starting a food pantry here on PVAMU campus.
Project TLC students then transitioned to the educational sessions that included a food demonstration session, a Gardening 101 session, and a nutrition table and then a garden tour. The food demonstration was held in the Cooperative Extension Program Demonstration kitchen and was a joint effort lead by Joyce Osborne, CEP Program Specialist in the Family and Community Health Unit. Two CEP Practicum Experience Interns, Brittany Carter and Phina Ananti and two Project TLC students, Juleah Hall, and LaTaisha Jeffery, helped to prepare produce collected from the community garden to show attendees how to make nutritious food from produce like kale, mint leaves, and cucumbers. Peter Ampim, CARC Research Scientist and Eric Obeng, Postdoctoral fellow, worked with Project TLC students, Tony Green and Wesley Okafor to demonstrate to attendees how to transplant seedlings into larger planters for container gardening. Jaki Sanders, Program Coordinator, assisted Project TLC student Sydney Henderson and Practicum Intern, Brittany Carter, in talking to attendees about the nutritional value associated with produce such as okra. Lastly, Faith Isabelle and Andrew Nwachukwu, CARC Plant Systems interns provided the attendees an opportunity to tour the garden areas and field plot where the produce was grown. Earlena Evans and Andre Johnson, Project TLC student researchers along with CARC summer intern, Robert Douglas was responsible for ensuring that the attendees safely arrived at each session due to the sweltering weather conditions.
Lastly, some of the produce from the community garden was displayed on a table near the historic Veterinary Clinic in a joint effort with the CEP Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Specialist, Rafash Brew and CEP student intern Cliff Collins and Elaine Shafer, CAHS Business Coordinator.
Project TLC is a convergent project funded by USDA although it leveraged funds provided by the PVAMU’s Office of Academic Affairs Faculty Enhancement Initiative as a joint project for the CAHS and the College of Business. Both sets of funds made the student’s experience both meaningful so that faculty can become more intimately involved with providing a learning experience for students, and in turn the students have an opportunity to gain skills like working in a collaborative, diverse team of thinkers, communicating effectively to deliver a student-led initiative to the community and making informed decisions about information to be shared. Carson believes that the early morning collaborative work in the garden helped to build relationships and provided the students the opportunity to communicate with each other and other scientists and critical staff members to ensure that the garden was thriving. The level of the students’ commitment and interest in performing the research activities was contagious and electrifying as the students showed up before the building was open on many days to start their work duties. The Project TLC student researchers not only participated in these activities, but they attended seminars related to the importance of a lab notebook, laboratory safety, and e-portfolio building (Priscilla Johnson and Shadia Washington in the Office of Career Services) and Research Ethics and Export Control (Donna Pulkrabek and Crysta Mendes in the Office of Research, Innovation & Sponsored Programs).
Alfred L. Parks, Interim Executive Director for Research, reiterated the importance of students learning firsthand how food is produced from seedbed preparation, seeding, growing, harvesting—all the way to the plate. He believes this is indeed a life-changing experience for most of the student who had never had such an experience before. The enthusiasm is infectious. He cannot wait for the next phase as students are actively engaged in recruiting other students as volunteers to participate in the project.
This work was supported by the USDA Capacity Building Grant 2019-38821-29036