For its 2013 Honors in Action project, the Upsilon Eta Chapter from Florida State College at Jacksonville-Kent Campus researched food deserts in Jacksonville. The results were surprising, but even more so was the chapter’s invitation to present its findings during the 2014 Florida Undergraduate Research Conference.
“Normally participants at this conference are at the university level, because community colleges typically aren’t involved in a lot of research,” said Keith Walters, 2013-14 chapter president. “But we submitted our abstract, and we were selected to present.”
A food desert is loosely defined as an urban neighborhood and/or rural town without access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Working under the 2012/2013 Honors Study Topic, The Culture of Competition, the chapter sought to determine the relationship between a person’s socioeconomic status and his or her accessibility to supermarkets. The chapter compiled its findings at competitionforfood.com.
The topic of food deserts had been in the news lately in the Jacksonville area, and it piqued the interest of the chapter officer team. Seven percent of Jacksonville’s residents – greater than the national average of five percent – are living in a food desert.
In their research, chapter members discovered that zip codes with a higher average income among its residents also boasted greater access to supermarkets. Access to supermarkets and therefore healthy, more nutritious food was limited in zip codes with lower income levels.
“We wanted to do a really thorough and objective research project,” Walters said. “All of the officers knew we wanted to go get a graduate degree, so we wanted to get familiar with the research process.”
The group – particularly Walters, Amy Brownfield and Stephanie Hughes, authors of the project – turned to faculty members who had recently completed doctorate degrees for guidance on the research process. They purposefully chose faculty members with varied backgrounds to get a wide array of perspectives.
“We spent a lot of time just on the writing,” Walters said. “Obviously this is something that will be invaluable as we write research papers on the graduate level.”
The experience actually came in handy in just the next semester, as Walters enrolled in a Business Statistics class. That class focused on research similar to the kind he had just finished for his Honors in Action project.
“So I learned it outside the classroom before the class even started,” he said.
After three months, when the research was completed, the data examined and the paper written, the chapter held a mock defense to defend its findings, attended by the college president and about 40 college administrators.
“I was very proud of my students with the quality of work and the manner in which they presented themselves as they defended their research,” said chapter advisor Dr. Mary James. “It really reminded me of my dissertation defense.”
The team shared its research with county health department officials as well as with researchers from the University of Florida, aiming to spread its findings by any means possible. The team was even asked to help develop a mobile famers market to serve food insecure areas. The chapter was also named a Top 100 Chapter during NerdNation 2014 in Orlando, Florida.
And of course, being invited to present during the 2014 Florida Undergraduate Research Conference was the icing on the cake.
“The success of the research was great,” Walters said. “We had validation in the work we did. We felt we did a good job, which was an important feeling when we’d worked so hard on it.”
Has your chapter planned its Honors in Action Project yet? It’s not too late to get started! Learn more and find helpful tips in the Honors Program Guide.