Winter 2018

Called to Serve

They wanted to do something good for the world. It became the foundation for a career.

By Laura Ferguson

Students come to the Friedman School from any number of places—academia, business, government, the nonprofit sector—but they all share one goal: to serve the public good, whether by transforming our food systems or improving public health. Many incoming Friedman School students have already worked for such organizations as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. When they arrive they’ll find a similarly devoted community—people like Jennifer Hashley, director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, and Tisch Faculty Fellow Fang Fang Zhang. And now the Friedman School is doing even more to support future leaders who have demonstrated a devotion to service. The new Service Scholars Program provides scholarship support to match or exceed—up to a full scholarship—the educational stipends students have previously earned by participation in most service programs. Here, Hashley, Zhang, and three service scholars share their passion for service.

Farah Ahmad. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Adopting a Planetary Perspective

Farah Ahmad, service scholar master’s candidate

Growing up in Baghdad, Farah Ahmad remembers volunteers reaching out to help her struggling family and others even worse off. “I saw how concerned they were for our safety,” Ahmad said. “That’s got me thinking that I too wanted to be a person who helps others.”

Shortly after Ahmad’s family immigrated to Massachusetts, she had her first opportunity. While participating in a Hurricane Katrina relief trip, she was impressed by the work of AmeriCorps volunteers. So after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2015 with a degree in environmental science, she joined AmeriCorps VISTA as a Green Initiative project leader, working with YouthBuild USA.

Now as a service scholar at the Friedman School, Ahmad focuses on food waste. The United Nations estimates that about 800 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment every day, she said, “not because we don’t produce enough food, but because we waste so much.” The Friedman School, she said, is helping her connect the dots between the impact of current food practices and threats to the planet’s future. “If everybody does their part,” she said, “we can solve the challenges we face.”

Claire Loudis. Photo: Anna Miller

Cultivating Inspiration from the Ground Up

Claire Loudis, service scholar master’s candidate

You can’t talk about Southern culture without talking about food. Claire Loudis discovered that when, during four years as an AmeriCorps volunteer in post-Katrina New Orleans, she witnessed a city reinventing itself. Chefs who made great comfort food for AmeriCorps home-building crews “would talk about buying all the ingredients with food stamps,” she said. “It was just so tough to get the basics of fresh fruits and veggies.”

Loudis was intrigued when she discovered a thriving community-garden movement in New Orleans, and began volunteering at Growdat Garden in City Park, where high school students worked in exchange for pay and academic credit. She also took courses at an herbal-medicine shop run by a registered nurse who impressed Loudis with her drive “to empower people in a very poor neighborhood to think about taking care of themselves.”

These experiences, among others, sparked a fascination for the connections between food, health, and equity. “The Friedman School appealed to me because of its interdisciplinary approach,” the service scholar said. Loudis was also drawn to the university-wide graduate program Water: Systems, Science & Society, “because of the impact water and climate change have on New Orleans.” The interdisciplinary culture of the Friedman School, she said, helps fresh ideas thrive. “With these complex issues, there is no one way to approach a solution,” she said. “You have to open yourself up to consider everything.”

Alyssa Melendez. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Advocating for Food Equity

Alyssa Melendez, service scholar master’s candidate

Oregon’s rural Columbia River Gorge region has expansive apple, pear, and cherry orchards. Yet a recent study revealed epidemic hunger throughout all five counties. Alyssa Melendez saw this disparity firsthand in 2016, when she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest (JVCNW) and worked for a year with the Gorge Grown Food Network, a nonprofit building a resilient and inclusive food system that improves the health and well-being of the community. “It was through that experience,” she said, “that I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”

As a service scholar, Melendez is studying food systems and food equity, carrying on an ethos that goes back to her childhood. She grew up in a Catholic family, she said, “and I always had a heart for service and social justice.” On the path ahead, she’ll take direction from the highly collaborative JVCNW community. The work is “about walking alongside people,” she said. “I think of myself more as an ally—and when we work together, that’s when real change happens.”

Jennifer Hashley. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Building a Future for Farmers

Jennifer Hashley, G05, director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Witnessing subsistence farming during four years of Peace Corps service in Honduras, Jennifer Hashley said, drove home “how much of the world is struggling to feed themselves.” So she jumped at the chance to work at the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, which helps refugees, immigrants, and others get started in agriculture. She became project director in 2006. “It’s been an incredible experience building programming to help people who have this dream of farming,” she said.

In 2016, as an Eisenhower Agriculture Fellow, Hashley joined a global leadership network that traveled through Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia to learn about farmer training, agricultural innovations, and scaling-up strategies – insights that will help inform the New Entry project. “One of my favorite days is the annual farm tour,” she said. “I love hearing the farmers talk about how amazing it is to fulfill their dream and how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished. There’s nothing better than that.”

Bringing Nutrition Knowledge Directly to Families

Fang Fang Zhang, associate professor and inaugural Miriam E. Nelson Tisch Faculty Fellow

To improve the long-term health of pediatric cancer survivors, cancer epidemiologist Fang Fang Zhang is investigating patterns of weight gain. Her studies have shown that four- and five-year-old patients, for instance, develop insatiable cravings for salty foods and sugary treats that persist even after treatment ends. These eating habits put young cancer survivors at risk of diabetes and obesity as adults.

For Zhang, timely communication is vital to changing behavior. “It is critical that we incorporate nutrition counseling into patient care and recovery strategies,” she said. One strategy she developed as a Tisch Faculty Fellow, sponsored by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, is the Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) online intervention. The program gives parents tools to transition the entire family into healthy eating and active living as soon as their child completes early-stage cancer treatment. Through this unique partnership with patients, family members and oncology care providers, she is honing effective strategies that incorporate nutrition into cancer care.

On the horizon are further studies and outreach strategies. “We need persistence to push this forward,” she said. “In time, I know change will come.”

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