Undergraduates at the University of Washington School of Public Health devised a plan to help local schools save more than 85,000 calories of food a day and divert it to students and communities in need.
The UW students worked with the city of Auburn, in Washington state, to evaluate food waste patterns in elementary, middle and high schools and to identify effective food rescue strategies. The project was part of a public health capstone course, in partnership with the UW Livable City Year program, which connects communities with UW faculty and students on projects to improve livability and sustainability.
“I’ve never done any type of field research before, but this actually got me interested in possibly pursuing research opportunities in the future,” said Ms. Daniel a Vega, a senior in the public health major who worked on the food waste project during spring quarter.
The capstone is a pioneering program that combines learning goals and community service to enhance student growth and the common good. Hundreds of students have dedicated at least 50 hours each to supporting projects that strengthen local communities and provide services to vulnerable populations.
In the required two-quarter course, students apply the knowledge they acquired in their degree program by creating solutions to public health problems. “Students bring everything together during their capstone,” says Ms. Deborah Hinchey, a clinical instructor in health services who teaches the course. “It’s a structured way for them to gain exposure to communities and make meaning of their experiences.”
Partner organizations include the Chinese Information and Services Center, United Way of King County, Urban Rest Stop, Roots Young Adult Shelter, Jewish Family Services, Low-income Housing Institute, International Refugee Commission, East African Community Services and Bailey-Boushay House.
Ms. Erin Deffenbaugh, an alumna of the public health major, worked at a homeless shelter for women in downtown Seattle as part of her capstone. “It pushed me outside of my comfort zone to experience a real world public health issue,” says Ms. Deffenbaugh, who now works as a pediatric mental health specialist at Seattle Children’s. “I knew right away that I wanted to go to work to serve my community.”
The capstone is a requirement for students pursuing a BA or BS in public health at the School. It was piloted with 25 students in January 2013 with support from the UW’s Carlson Center, which continues to manage registration, logistics and partner development.Washington