Waste not, want not.
It’s an old expression that senior Lucy Sjulin has long been familiar with. Little did she know that a simple volunteer experience would lead her to completely embrace the phrase.
Sjulin, a Spanish and global studies major from Omaha, joined members of Nebraska Wesleyan’s Global Service Learning and volunteered at FoodNet, a local organization that collects un-purchased perishable food items from grocery stores and distributes it to the hungry in the community.
The brief service experience inspired her to write a paper for her Spanish composition class. Her topic was food insecurity and increased consumption of quinoa, a grain produced in South America that is grown and harvested for its nutritious seeds. In her paper Sjulin examined the effects of quinoa consumption on the farmers of Bolivia and the impact the grain has had on the country’s economy.
Associate Professor of Spanish Cathy Nelson read Sjulin’s paper and encouraged her to take it to the next level.
“At Nebraska Wesleyan we emphasize the development of critical thinking skills. I let Lucy be the expert on quinoa and food security,” said Nelson. “I can fill in some of the other gaps and help her look at it differently.”
Together Sjulin and Nelson applied for NWU’s Student Faculty Collaborative Research Fund, which provides money for students and professors to research together. Their application was approved and soon Sjulin and her professor were off to Bolivia for five days over fall break for hands-on research.
“She’s a really dynamic person who said let’s take this to the next level. Let’s just do it,” Sjulin said of Nelson. “We’re both the kind of people who want to see it hands on. That’s what this university is about and that’s what I’m about.”
In Bolivia they visited several people ranging from high-level policy-makers to farmers who grow quinoa.
“My favorite part of the trip was to see who was growing it and where they were growing it,” said Sjulin. “They still plow with oxen and they had just started the initial planting when we were there.”
The trip gave Sjulin a better understanding of Bolivia’s economic disparity and the impact of quinoa consumption.
Now Sjulin and Nelson are analyzing their findings, and Sjulin is using her research and experiences for her senior thesis. Her goal, she said, is to help raise awareness to the issue of food insecurity both locally and in Bolivia.
“This project is interdisciplinary and I can see the ways in which these different things intersect,” she said.
The research experience has also provided further direction for her career goals.
“As a global studies major, I’ve always wanted to be involved in international affairs,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in international problem solving. This project made me aware of an issue that I definitely see myself working on in the future.”
And she hasn’t ruled out a return to Bolivia.
“They were really interested in having volunteers in Bolivia,” said Sjulin. “It opens up so many more possibilities to going back."
Sjulin was not the only one to learn and grow from the experience.
“I found it really valuable because it allows me to get out of my little world,” said Nelson. “I’ve gotten to explore fields I wouldn’t have otherwise. Every time I work with a student, it gives me insight into working with other students. I know that I’ve grown a lot.”