UHD food scholarships feed student success

BY University of Houston-Downtown

Tuition and textbooks are just a few of the expenses that college students must incur. They also must budget for school supplies, laptops, cell phones and other tools to support their studies.

And of course, students must afford food.

Food insecurity—or lack of access to fresh, nutritious food options— is prevalent at universities across the nation. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, between 20 and 33 percent of American college students experience food insecurity. Students at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) are not immune to this problem, and the institution has created a solution to support food insecure students.

Over the past year, UHD has offered food scholarships to students. This semester, 300 students are currently participating in the program, and received $60 per each credit hour taken during the semester. Scholarship recipients are provided a card that is redeemable at the University’s second-floor Food for Change Market—a small store providing fresh produce and non-perishable items donated by the Houston Food Bank.

There are two primary goals for the scholarships and pantry: to alleviate food insecurity among students and help them succeed at UHD.

“It’s important that this service is beneficial to our students and alleviates some of the daily stress they face.” said Courtney Lundgren, director of enrollment communication and client relationship management. “Ultimately, our goal is to take away some of their stress and help them graduate.”

Lundgren and Tremaine Kwasikpui, director of student activities, oversee the scholarship program and market.

The scholarship was developed in 2016 following on-campus surveys (conducted by UHD Veterans Services and other offices) and officially kicked off in 2017 to aid students recovering from Harvey. Data from the surveys reflected that students were lacking in healthy eating habits and access to fresh food, Kwasikpui noted.

“We’re tracking students in the program to determine whether this scholarship not only feeds students and their families, but helps them perform better academically and graduate,” he said.

As the Food Scholarship enters its third year, it will be open to more applicants. According to Kwasikpui, all students who complete the application will be eligible in 2019.

“In the fall semester alone, we had 60 to 70 percent of scholarship recipients fully utilizing their funds and our market,” he said. “And, we had another 400 to 500 students express interest in the scholarship.”

UHD’s Food Scholarship Market is operated by current UHD students and staff volunteers. “This market would not be as successful as it’s been without the student staff Amanda Howard, Denia Contreras, Cristian Contreras and Ryan Sharp.”

Lundgren also credits staff members for their support of the market, including Percy Sandel, coordinator of enrollment communications and client relationship management; Bonnie Mar, functional technical support analyst; and Deborah Evans, manager of Shipping, Receiving and Mailroom.

Recently, Kwasikpui and Lundgren’s efforts in managing the scholarship were recognized during the Houston Food Bank Awards. UHD was named Higher Education Partner of the Year during a recent ceremony.

“That was exciting,” he said. “To be recognized for the scholarship’s first year was a great accomplishment for our university. It was acknowledged for its creativity and willingness to serve our students, as well as its flexibility.”

Initially, researchers from Rice University were helping track scholarship recipients to measure its effects on retention and academic performance. Now, Houston Food Bank researchers will study the relationship between food insecurity and student success.

“We want to see how this helps our students and how we can perhaps tailor this scholarship to better serve them,” Lundgren said. “This initiative, like so many others at UHD, is about ensuring our Gators succeed.”

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second largest university in Houston—has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.

As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. Annually, UHD educates more than 14,000 students; boasts over 50,000 alumni and offers 44 bachelor’s and eight master’s degree programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service, Sciences & Technology; and University College). In 2018, UHD grew its First Time in College student population by 11 percent and transfer students by 14 percent.

UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston. It also is ranked among 15 U.S. universities with lowest net price to students (according to the U.S. Department of Education). The University is noted nationally as both a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a Minority-Serving Institution. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.