497-312: Eat the (Food) Desert: The Bronzeville Challenge

Meeting Days/Time
Tuesdays from 1:50 to 4:30 pm
In collaboration with Chicago Public Schools, Sodexo and the Institute of Food Safety & Health (IFSH) at Illinois Tech
Stuart Patterson - Associate Professor of Liberal Arts, Shimer College (s.patterson@shimer.edu) Lisa Montgomery - IIT Office of Inclusion, Diversity & Employer Engagement (lisa.montgomery@iit.edu)
Appropriate Majors
Social Innovation

It is a commonplace that institutions of higher education can act as “ivory towers,” refuges from the everyday business of life where issues are “academic,” i.e. with little importance to non-specialists. At the same time, in the face of such charges, universities and colleges, large and small, have long sought to counter this perception with various forms of community engagement. A good example of such engagement is the diligent regard for public stakeholders in Illinois Tech’s Interprofessional Projects Program itself. Of course, as with any complex partnership, communication between specialized experts in academic institutions and groups and individuals in other roles must be continually refreshed if such partnerships are to flourish and offer continuing benefits to all involved.

This IPRO project will continue the work of two previous teams in Spring and Fall 2016. The proposed continuation of this course in Spring 2017 would be the final iteration toward the original course goals, now refined into the objectives set forth here.

The overall objective of the course remains to design and create new means for innovative, constructive communication between IIT, Shimer and the larger Bronzeville community. Within this larger goal, the course currently has divided students into three teams, each with a specific brief. The first team is tasked to continue developing the “exploratory forum” event model devised by the Spring 2016 class. The second team is tasked with supporting such face-to-face encounters between the university and its community through “information exchange nodes” designed as part of the built-environment in varying locations around Bronzeville. The third team is tasked with developing resources through investigating, contacting and cultivating sources of monetary and in-kind support necessary to meeting the first two teams’ goals.

The main objective of the Spring 2017 course will be, at a minimum, to continue and complete the work of the first and second teams as described above. Specifically, this will mean:

a) if necessary, completing any fabrication on the first full-scale iteration of the currently conceived design of the information exchange nodes described above;
b) assessing and, if necessary, refining the ongoing design of the node based on completion of fabrication and field testing;
c) deploying between one and three tested nodes in locations around Bronzeville supporting themes involved in a third iteration of the “exploratory forum” event model;
d) planning and conducting a third “exploratory forum” in concert with the deployment of the information exchange nodes.

The specific issue that has focused the ongoing development of the work products described above has been Bronzeville’s widespread description as a “food desert.” The Fall 2016 class has begun developing a partnership with the Institute for Food Safety and Health, along with Chef David Blackmon, who leads the culinary program of the Chicago Public Schools, to devise effective messaging about healthy and effective choices for those faced with “eating the desert.” IFSH Researcher Yancui Huang has begun counseling with all three teams in Fall 2016 on how to devise effective communication strategies about healthy eating for both exploratory forums and information exchange nodes. Further, Peter Hanig of Hanig’s Shoe Stores and the original impetus behind the idea of “Cows on Parade” in Chicago has begun consulting on the design and promotion of the information exchange nodes. As noted, these are intended to become at least temporarily a part of greater Bronzeville’s built environment and serve to draw attention to issues of healthy eating and focus community engagement with the university on this issue specifically. Finally, a student in the current course, Chandell Gadbois (A), has written with the following statement, which we include in this proposal at her request:

“IPRO 497-312 needs student continuity to successfully and efficiently move forward for the Spring 2017 semester. As an adviser/assistant to the team I will be able to pass along all specific information gathered during the Fall 2016 semester to the students and work as a continued point of contact for all businesses, groups and people contacted during the Fall 2016 semester.”

Facilitating our students’ existing partnerships and new ones developed over the coming months will be the focus of our efforts in guiding students in Spring 2017. We intend to promote a “client-centered” approach to designing both the “ex-fo” event and the “info-nodes” (as these have come to be called). We also aim to provide the guidance of successful innovators in both event management and strategies for enhancing the built environment.

In addition to the design, construction and testing of the information exchange nodes, student skills developed in Spring 2017 will continue to include event planning, networking and effective promotion of the course’s

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