The End Only Marks a New Beginning

As I begin to write this final blog post, I can’t help but reminisce on all the amazing mentors I’ve had throughout this project during the spring and summer. I’ve had the opportunity to meet inspirational people and form connections with professionals in an industry I desire to pursue a career in. This experience has been so much more than simply a summer research project. In my earlier posts, I often include many references to this experience being a journey, and under the same analogy, this final post would symbolize the end of that journey. However, that is not the case, as this simply marks the beginning of a project I wish to engage with for all the time I’m at the University of Pittsburgh, and maybe even beyond. It encompasses many disciplines that I’m passionate about, and represents the intersection of modern data analytics and social impact. Leveraging data for community good can have an astounding impact, which I desire to explore further. 

This project has had a significant impact on my perception of research. In the past I’ve done research projects in a more traditional method, following the classic methodology and collecting primary data. This project has been extremely unique, as I still conducted a traditional literature review, but the most labor intensive part was the methodology and design, as we had to make a functional data collection application in order to begin collecting original data. We did conduct primary research, as we incorporated existing data into the application to produce scores and assessments, however the original survey data is a necessary complement to this existing data, and will allow for a more holistic analysis. Also, in the past I’ve worked with experts on research, but never to the extent I was involved with other individuals and organizations during this project. I worked in partnership with the Director of the Center for Data Analytics at Food21, and our almost daily meetings included discussion of everything from design to marketing. Working with him throughout this project amplified our productivity and provided entertainment. It also helped me refine my teamwork and communication skills.

This was one of the most valuable benefits of the research project, the ability to make meaningful connections. As a business major, I’m acutely aware of the importance of building a strong network. This project allowed me to expand my network and enter an NPO industry I’m extremely interested in. These connections extend to other facets beyond the project, as I’m continuing to work with these connections on other independent projects, like my startup. In addition, I’ve also been immersed into the niche world of open source analytics software, which is often utilized by NPOs due to budgetary restrictions acting as barriers to more premium software. I’ve received an in depth education of this software, which I will communicate to members of one of the clubs I’m involved in, the League of Emerging Analytics Professionals. We are in the process of creating a collaborative workshop with Food21 and LEAP, to teach students some of the barriers to high level analytics and the importance of open source software. This experience has been valuable for both the development of my technical skills and for strengthening my network in the food industry. 

No project can escape the inevitable challenging moments. From sudden changes in methodology, to new discoveries, events can occur throughout the process that can have a drastic impact on the direction of the project. This was a challenge I encountered for the beginning of the project. I was tasked with adopting a pre-existing model using modern technology. While this came with an established methodology, the literature review and design were outdated and needed to be modernized. This modernization was a primary challenge I faced, and was the focus of much of the early work. As a result, the beta version was achieved through intensive collaboration and brainstorming, including countless meetings with the founders of the original Food Abundance Index. 

This assistance allowed me to dedicate lots of time during the week to this project, and it provided me with the necessary resources to support myself through the term of the fellowship. I was able to substitute this experience with traditional support jobs to pursue a project in line with a topic I’m passionate about. While I still pursued projects in this industry on a voluntary basis, this support validated my work and allowed me to immerse myself, committing my time to an impactful project. Turning my passion into an internship was an extremely rewarding experience, and reinforced the notion of turning a passion into a career.

I plan on continuing to work with Food21 into the fall semester, both on this project and on related projects regarding food insecurity. We are ready to begin collecting primary survey data, and have made significant progress on a marketing campaign. While a full fledged release is still far out, we have begun to introduce the application to important stakeholders. We will continue to do this in the fall, and I’m excited to explore the opportunity to continue working on this project. Even though the project is not yet complete, we made lots of progress during the scholarship period, progress that would’ve been otherwise unobtainable without the fellowship.

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