When University of California President Janet Napolitano launched the Global Food Initiative last year, she and UC’s 10 chancellors announced a bold mission: Harness UC’s people and power to put the university, state and world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed themselves.
UC students have stepped up to the challenge. Among the shining stars are members of the first class of UC President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellows. From enhancing campus gardens and encouraging healthier eating to reducing food waste and making farming more sustainable, these fellows have delved into important issues and laid the groundwork for further student involvement.
Here are some of their stories.
Kate Kaplan, UC Berkeley
How can a UC student get involved in food issues? Kate Kaplan, who became active in student gardening at UC Berkeley, is making it easier for students to find their opportunities. She is using her fellowship to compile information about experiential learning in food systems education within the UC system. Kaplan, who just graduated, is pursuing a career in food — she plans to start a sustainable coffee company.
Ryan Dowdy, UC Davis
California produces over 6 million tons of food waste every year. How can that impact be reduced? Convert food waste into electricity. UC Davis graduate student Ryan Dowdy is trying to do just that with his Global Food Initiative fellowship project. So far, he has found that tomato waste can be used to power microbial fuel cells, which are effectively living batteries that directly convert organic waste into electricity through the use of electron-producing bacteria.
Ankita Raturi, UC Irvine
Ankita Raturi, a UC Irvine graduate student in informatics, has a different take on applying technology to agriculture: Her Global Food Initiative fellowship project is to model the environmental impacts of agricultural systems. She is working to develop an open source environmental assessment tool that can capture the complexity of agricultural systems and help farmers increase their sustainability.
Sanna Alas, UCLA
Urban gardening can boost a community’s spirit. Sanna Alas has seen this firsthand while volunteering at Jordan High, an underserved school in Watts. She is helping the students tell their story through film as they turn an abandoned plot of land across the street from the school into a community garden. As a UC Global Food Initiative student fellow, Alas, who just graduated from UCLA, is making a short documentary that focuses on the Jordan High students and other urban gardeners in Los Angeles.
Hoaithi Dang, UC Merced
UC Merced undergraduate student Hoaithi Dang is working on a campaign to promote local food. He wants to educate other undergraduate students on the positive effects of eating local and the cycle of food production. Dang already has made a difference on campus in his first year: His efforts helped provide more than 1,000 reusable water bottles for students, contributing to the reduction of landfill waste.
Dietlinde Heilmayr, UC Riverside
Dietlinde Heilmayr, a UC Riverside graduate student in psychology, is working on a Global Food Initiative fellowship project involving community gardens. Her project focuses on applying the scientific designs and research techniques of health psychology to understand how community gardens improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities. She has been able to conduct research right on campus at the UC Riverside Community Garden.
Jon Schor, UC San Francisco
Jon Schor, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at UC San Francisco, is developing a mobile app that takes nutritional facts such as the calorie count of a food item and translates that into an equivalent physical activity such as running or lifting weights. He has been working through this summer to enhance the app’s design and features. He hopes to launch a version this fall, perhaps by integrating it with an existing app.
Emilie Wood and Kate Parkinson, UC Santa Barbara
With so much food going to waste, two Global Food Initiative fellows at UC Santa Barbara are assessing the power of communication to influence behavior. Emilie Wood and Kate Parkinson tested two messages for prominent display during weekend brunch periods at the campus’s residential dining facilities to see which would be more effective in cutting waste. They weighed the food waste and have been analyzing the data to determine the results.
Jacqueline Chang, UC ANR
UC Berkeley’s Jacqueline Chang is nurturing her interest in social justice. For her Global Food Initiative fellowship, Chang has been working with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources on a survey to assess student hunger. The project’s goal is to understand issues of food access, use of campus resources, prevalence of food insecurity and consequences of food insecurity among UC students. The survey findings will help inform the use of funding of $75,000 per campus that UC President Janet Napolitano allocated to support food security and access for students.