WSU Hunger Awareness Initiative develops international model
It started out as a small-scale effort to fight hunger in Haiti by feeding school children in 2010, but today Wichita State University’s Hunger Awareness Initiative is a model of success that is spreading to college campuses around the world.
The group’s Five Pillar Model -- comprised of collaborators, media, events, research and community engagement -- was developed by a staff of dedicated students and faculty along with the initiative’s founder, Deborah Ballard-Reisch, Kansas Health Foundation distinguished chair in communication and professor at the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State.
Since its inception, the initiative’s foundation has been grounded in scholarship and community-based, participatory research. Its original mission was twofold: to raise awareness of hunger and to investigate the nature and scope of hunger on campus and in the community. That mission has expanded with the development of the Five Pillar Model.
So far, Ballard-Reisch and student volunteers have made presentations at eight academic conferences, published a peer-reviewed journal article and a book chapter, and presented their model seven times to community colleges, colleges and universities, including at the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summits in Catacamas, Honduras, and Overland Park, Kan.
More than just packaging food, the group’s focus has shifted to creating a program that can be replicated by other college communities. The Five Pillar Model has codified the initiative’s success, and includes collaborations with other organizations, promoting the cause in traditional and social media, hosting events, engaging in academic research and involving the community.
A big focus of the Hunger Awareness Initiative has been to include partners both within and outside the university. Collaborations on campus have been conducted with the administration of Wichita State and Elliott School of Communication, Student Government Association, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Cultural Ambassador Program, Student Involvement and the Association of Hindu Students in America. External collaborators have included Numana, Sodexo, Stop Hunger Now, the Global Learning Center, Universities Fighting World Hunger and the Kansas Hunger Dialogue.
Collaborators are important to the model because they can provide crucial infrastructure. They facilitate access to communication channels to raise awareness, conduct research and provide support for potential solutions to hunger issues.
Social media has evolved into an indispensible component of the Five Pillar Model.
The initiative has used Facebook to build relationships and increase awareness through existing networks. The group’s Facebook presence has grown from 24,389 post views in the fall semester of 2011 to a total reach of 83,501 in the spring semester of 2013. Twitter provides the cause with real-time updates and increased awareness of events. Blogging has provided depth of content and cohesion to the initiative, as well as a link to the “Share your Story” portal, which encourages visitors to tell their personal hunger stories.
Traditional media exposure was also sought, including news reports in WSU’s student newspaper, The Sunflower, coverage on KAKE-TV and KMUW Public Radio, a Web article by KFDI-FM, an article in the Marshall (Texas) News Messenger, and exposure on the university’s website, which was picked up by Yahoo! News online.
The WSU Hunger Awareness Initiative has held student food drives to benefit the Kansas Food Bank and student lunches and food packaging events with Numana and Stop Hunger Now. They’ve hosted four campus based “Dinner and Conversation” events to raise awareness and gather data. They’ve sponsored freeze mobs, conducted surveys and made numerous presentations.
Planning and hosting these special events has given the initiative simultaneous opportunities to build awareness, conduct research and attract media attention.
Academic research performed by the initiative not only informs the Wichita State community about the nature and scope of hunger issues on campus, but provides students with opportunities to apply research outside of theories learned in the classroom.
It turns out that college students are one of the most understudied populations for hunger and food insecurity in the nation. Taking advantage of its position in the campus community, the group has collected 52 hunger stories, attracted 200 volunteers to participate in focus groups and gathered 1,051 responses to a quantitative survey. A second campuswide survey is in development for spring, 2014.
The results of this research revealed that Wichita State and other campuses have a lot of work to do to face hunger issues in their communities.
The fifth pillar, community engagement, was added to the hunger awareness model this year. It was developed in response to the realization that an emphasis on community engagement would make the program not only sustainable, but transferrable.
To this end, the WSU Hunger Awareness Initiative has taken its model of success to student and community groups, including the Ulrich Museum Food Desert Panel, the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit, Wiley College’s Ethical Student Leadership Conference, Hutchinson Community College’s Faculty Senate, Southwestern College’s Health Week and Lunches with Leaders, the Kansas Hunger Dialogue and WSU’s Elliott School Communication Week.