Being hungry and struggling to obtain nutritious snacks is a feeling familiar to many graduate students working at the University of Calgary’s Foothills Campus. Students not only have few food choices on site, but they are also often strapped for cash, both of which are barriers leaving them at risk of food insecurity.
Taylor Scheidl, a PhD student in the Cardiovascular and Respiratory Science program at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), and Jessica Wager, BHSc'22, a master’s student in the same program, both study the impacts of obesity on health and are interested in tackling the issue of food insecurity in the grad student population on campus in a practical way.
The duo developed the Grad Snacks program, which launched in mid-January, to provide nutritious, convenient snacks 24 hours a day for grad students at Foothills Campus. Grad students can find these items in the Zen Den located in HSC G214.
“I had noticed that myself and my friends were often staying on campus longer than anticipated to work late and were often hungry,” says Scheidl. “So, I wondered if the problem was unique to my group.”
The curious student, whose research program looks at how obesity is perpetuated across the generations, surveyed grad students at Foothills to see if others had similar experiences.
The results were eye-opening. Fifty per cent of those surveyed said they struggle with food insecurity, and 80 per cent said they can’t bring enough food to get through their day.
Armed with this information, Scheidl and Wager petitioned the Graduate Students' Association and were awarded a Quality Money grant to start the Grad Snacks program.
The success of their efforts has been exciting for both students. Says Wager:
Receiving funding made me feel like our concerns are heard and that there are people who care about graduate students and our health. It’s been inspiring.
Scheidl agrees and has further plans for enhancing the program and leaving a legacy.
“As an advocate of grad student health, I am really excited to see this idea come to fruition,” she says. “We also want this program to become a permanent fixture at the CSM, so we are hoping to find community partners to keep this going, even after we have completed our studies.”
The duo has also received positive feedback from their student colleagues who are excited about the program.
Scheidl and Wager’s mentor, Dr. Jennifer Thompson, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, is impressed with the work of her trainees and says it’s important to address these barriers to healthy eating.
“Taylor and Jessica pursued this project independent of me, showing leadership potential and a drive to contribute to the broader academic community,” says Thompson. “I think it is a great idea and am excited to see it develop.”