Undergraduate research comes in all shapes and sizes. While most students aim at research that will impact the greater academic or scientific community, some choose to focus on making an impact on a local level. Maddie Allums is one such case. Over the past summer, the double English and Sociology major took to the streets of Greenville to locate and evaluate food deserts within the community.
“I spent most of my time surveying customers at local stores, Mill Village Market and Swamp Rabbit Grocery,” Allums explains. “The two question survey would ask customers for their zip code and a street intersection close to where they live. Once compiled, the information was utilized by Dr. Kolb in the Sociology Department to map the customer’s proximity to available food sources via a GIS mapping system.”
The research targeted Greenville’s underprivileged neighborhoods in hope of exposing the geographical and financial problems that many face in obtaining healthy nutritional choices. Both Swamp Rabbit Grocery and Mill Village Market cater to these clientele and are located within such neighborhoods. However, as Allums explains, the problem of availability is not simply geographical.
“We have patterns of thinking about certain things. We think dropping a store in the middle of a food desert will fix the problem. There are other factors that play into availability, like price. Transportation is surprisingly not the biggest area of concern, so we have to shift our mentality from thinking that the problem is just location.”
Exposing the various problems associated with nutrition in these neighborhoods has been a passion of Dr. Kolb's, Allums’s faculty advisor and mentor, for several years now. As opposed to simply sponsoring undergraduate research, Dr. Kolb worked directly with the students and even recruited Allums for the project.
“I didn’t even know the position was available,” Allums admits when asked about the nature of her involvement. Taking a chance on the project, Allums found an interest in her research and has since become an advocate of publicizing the issue.
“In addition to actively fighting the food desert problem, we just need to get people talking," Allums says. "Our research right now is preliminary but the problems are certainly there.”
In addition to helping Dr. Kolb start the conversation within the Greenville community, Allums hopes to use her research to better inform her career choice in the future. “I’m happy to have received a taste of what it’s really like out there. The microinteractions that I had a on a daily basis is what I came to love and what I would look forward to if I were to go into this field.”
For her, the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge in the field was both exciting and eye opening. “My sociology classes were obviously very helpful and my close relationship with Dr. Kolb was certainly applicable as well, but what I found most interesting was how real it all was.”
Although she is not sure what career path she aims at pursuing, Allums is sure that the immersive nature of her research experience will play a role in her decision making. She advises all students looking to follow a similar path to “establish a relationship with your professors. It’s really that simple. If they like you and an opportunity arises then you’ll be who they first contact.”