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Economics graduate chosen to present research on Capitol Hill

March 3, 2014
Dr
Dr. Ruth Cronje, professor of English, left, and Laurelyn Sandkamp, 2013 economics graduate.

EAU CLAIRE — Research on food insecurity in Eau Claire and the barriers low-income residents face in gaining access to and preparing healthy food will be on display April 28 as part of Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C. Laurelyn Sandkamp, a 2013 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire economics graduate from Lake Geneva, is one out of 60 presenters chosen from more than 600 applications to present her research to top decision-makers in the nation's capital.

Sandkamp began working on the project titled "Nutritional Agency Constraints Among Food Insecure Residents of Eau Claire County" as an undergraduate student in 2012 with her faculty mentor Dr. Ruth Cronje, a UW-Eau Claire professor of English, and Rachel Keniston, executive director of The Community Table in Eau Claire. The project was sponsored by UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, which is also funding the travel costs of the trip.

"This project provides data vital to our understanding of the challenges faced locally by those in poverty," Cronje said. "Given the importance of optimum nutrition to human health as well as to the ability of citizens to contribute meaningfully to society, Laurelyn's research is informing efforts in Eau Claire to build campus-community partnerships that can promote the health of our low-income residents."

Sandkamp worked with Keniston to edit and redesign a quarterly survey given out to The Community Table's guests to align it with national surveys on the topic of food insecurity in order to tell the story of food issues in Eau Claire and show the need for food assistance.

The survey, which had 120 respondents, sought out demographic factors such as gender, marital status, education level, income, race and ethnicity, and economic constraints such as housing, employment, income, access to transportation and access to food assistance programs.

"Laurelyn's project helped me take data that had been collected from our guests and put it into a format that can be used to share and educate the greater community about the needs of people who benefit from the meals served here," Keniston said. "This information really should be shared with the community to help educate all of us as to the needs present here in Eau Claire. To have it showcased to our congressional leaders is an opportunity that we are so excited about. We are really pleased for her and excited to have her share our story."

The analysis of the data collected showed that 98 percent of respondents said the fresh fruits and vegetables they receive at The Community Table are the only serving they eat in a day, and 100 percent said the meal at The Community Table provides a healthier diet than they can get elsewhere. The analysis also showed that more men than women, and more single people than married, are visiting The Community Table.

"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to explain these food insecurity issues to our top decision-makers in Washington, D.C.," Sandkamp said. "It's important to engage with and discuss these issues. I am also happy to represent our high level of undergraduate research at UW-Eau Claire. The ability to conduct research as an undergraduate student and own your own project is a unique opportunity."

Presenting at Posters on the Hill provides UW-Eau Claire an opportunity to show political leaders how important undergraduate research is to our students, Cronje said.

"Students who participate in faculty-student research have much greater learning outcomes and are better prepared to enter graduate school and the workforce," Cronje said. "Here at UW-Eau Claire, our undergraduate students and community organizations are partnering to conduct research that supports actual people and programs in our community."

Another UW-Eau Claire undergraduate project received an honorable mention in this year's Posters on the Hill selection. Seniors Elora Leene, a history major from Oconomowoc; Emy Marier, a psychology major from Hugo, Minn.; and Wesley Meives, an economics major from Mount Horeb; were recognized for being in the top 10 percent of submissions for their project titled "Results and Policy Implications from a Public Opinion Survey of Chinese Adults on Climate Change."

"It is a testament to the quality of the student-faculty scholarship on our campus that we not only have had a project selected for presentation at this year's Posters on the Hill event, but also one that received honorable mention," said Dr. Karen Havholm, assistant vice chancellor for research and director of UW-Eau Claire's Center of Excellence for Faculty/Student Research Collaboration. "It is a great honor to be singled out in this national competition."

Posters on the Hill is sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research, which represents more than 900 colleges and universities. The event showcases undergraduate research from across the country for members of Congress.

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