UC Davis Center at Vanguard of Addressing Food Insecurity Among Students

Female student selects melon at UC Davis' Aggie Compass
A doctoral student chooses produce offered for free at the Aggie Compass basic needs center at UC Davis. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Ryan McClintick knows what it’s like to try to live off the $1 menu at a fast-food place — and learn at the same time. The University of California, Davis, student didn’t feel well, found himself on academic probation and became socially isolated. He had to put his studies aside for a year to earn some money.

But now he’s helping meet the basic needs of his fellow students through a new campus center at the vanguard of how colleges and universities are addressing the food insecurity affecting more than one in three students nationwide.

The senior is an intern at Aggie Compass, a newly designed facility in the heart of the recently refurbished student union. “I like how it’s right here in the Memorial Union,” said the psychology major. “I think it will help destigmatize some of the issues. Hopefully, we can make a difference.”

Meeting immediate and long-term needs

Opened in June and starting its first full academic quarter this fall, the center operates as a unit of Student Affairs and goes beyond the services of food pantries.

  • A full-time representative helps students enroll in CalFresh, the benefit program known federally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Fresh produce, donated from the Student Farm on campus and local grocery stories, is available free of charge through the Fruit & Veggie Up! program.
  • The center’s cupboard and fridge keep other food on hand to help students when the student government’s food pantry is closed.
  • Interns from the Fitness and Wellness Center on campus will provide free nutrition consultations on site.
  • In Aggie style, interns use a bike cart to take resources out to student centers and other locations on campus.

Aggie Compass has put its early priority on food insecurity — defined as the limited or uncertain ability to have nutritionally adequate and safe foods. But Director Leslie Kemp said the center is developing housing and mental-wellness resources. “We’re taking a holistic approach to provide on-the-spot assistance and to connect students with other campus resources, including a case manager, for longer-term support.”

Born out of UC’s Global Food Initiative

Aggie Compass was born out of the UC Global Food Initiative, launched in 2014, to help provide solutions for food security, health and sustainability in California, across the country and around the world. Today, it has become the most visible representation of the campus commitment to address food insecurity and other basic needs.

In recent years, food insecurity has received increased attention in higher education because it not only affects students’ physical health, emotional and mental well-being, and social relationships, but also undermines their academic success.

UC’s 2016 Student Food Access and Security Study highlighted the problem of food insecurity among its own students. Of some 8,600 UC Davis students who responded to the 2016 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, 24 percent said they sometimes ran out of food before they had money to get more, and 9 percent said it happened often. Even more worried about facing that circumstance.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Hope Lab reported that 36 percent of four-year college students were food insecure in the 30 days before its Still Hungry and Homeless in College survey.

From apps to grow-your-own workshops

To do its work, Aggie Compass is leveraging the projects of the UC initiative’s fellows — several are also interning at the center. An app launching later this year will let students know where food is available for free. Workshops will teach students how to grow their own produce on campus. The student intern McClintick is helping lead efforts so the center can best use the resources of the Yolo Food Bank.

Aggie Compass’ website already offers information on food, housing, mental health and financial assistance. The center is also planning to partner with other units to offer financial aid and other workshops. In August, it received its first clothing donations to help students be ready for job interviews.

Gary S. May, chancellor of UC Davis, is expected to soon share his responses to the recommendations of three task forces he convened to review programs and consider improvements regarding food security, affordable student housing and mental health care on campus.

Media Resources

Leslie Kemp, Aggie Compass, 530-752-9061, lckemp@ucdavis.edu

Julia Ann Easley, News and Media Relations, 530-752-8248, jaeasley@ucdavis.edu

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University Food & Agriculture Human & Animal Health