Food Insecurity, the Built Environment, and a New Chapter

The past year conducting research with the Community Research Fellowship has been extremely eye-opening and rewarding for me. I had the opportunity to become involved with a diverse set of experiences related to the research I conducted, as well as explore new avenues for this research. Food insecurity is a multi-dimensional issue, and this research experience allowed me to explore many of these different dimensions across different experiences. The number one thing I learned about research from this experience is that it can come in many forms. My old perception of research involved an emphasis on a process and formality, which is certainly required, but the medium is extremely diverse. Through the fellowship seminars we experienced different methods for collecting and presenting data, as well as existing research that not only acted as an example for the research we’d be conducting, but also informed the type of research we’d be conducting. The sessions covered studies that focused on effective and ineffective methodologies to conduct community based research, which was ultimately extremely informative to my research. My research began at a very different point in the fall than ultimately my current stage. This year was a period of uncertainty and transition, but ultimately it made the experience more valuable. I initially began developing a primary food outlet survey in partnership with the nonprofit Food21 in order to collect data to support the development of the Food Abundance Index. This survey was almost entirely developed, and I learned effective surveying methodologies through one of the sessions for the CRF. However, a pivot was necessary due to the departure of the director of the center for data, analytics, and strategy at Food21. This departure put the project on hold, and diverted attention to developing an overall plan to approach analytics at Food21. Now called the Insights Center, I continued to work with the new Director to develop an assessment of the data and models we had constructed in order to form a more streamline overall strategy for the division. 

    From here my research evolved. A main goal for this experience was also to develop a literature review of related studies about food insecurity. Since this area is so broad, I decided to focus on the relationship between the built environment and food insecurity after having a conversation with Dr. Audrey Murrell. It was evident from my review that there was actually a gap in the literature, as the two concepts had not been thoroughly explored. I constructed a map depicting all the public transportation stops in the Pittsburgh area in relation to major food outlets in different Pittsburgh communities. I will be using this information in my upcoming research as a capstone. The nexts steps include submitting a proposal to pursue a Bachelors of Philosophy in order to complete a final thesis and oral defense. This decision to pursue a BPhil was inspired by the completion of the CRF, as it provided me with a holistic exploration into food insecurity in the Pittsburgh region, allowing me to narrow down my focus to an area of specific interest to me. The challenges I encountered throughout my CRF ultimately made the experience even more valuable, and it enabled me to explore an area I may not have had the opportunity to research otherwise. I was able to leverage my coursework and passion for analytics to explore an issue I’ve been passionate about for years, and the CRF opened the door to pursue a BPhil for me. I want to thank the donors, as well as Stacie and Everett for hosting the CRF seminars. These seminars were extremely insightful and really strengthened not only the development of my personal research, but also my knowledge of research in general.  

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