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Perseverance is more important than brilliance: Dr. Sherry Yennello from the Cyclotron Institute

Perseverance is more important than brilliance: Dr. Sherry Yennello from the Cyclotron Institute

Not that long ago, the only women’s restroom at Texas A&M’s Cyclotron Institute was in the administrative area, far from where the science was done. “There are more women now,” said Dr. Sherry Yennello, Chemistry Professor and Cyclotron Institute Bright Chair in Nuclear Science at Texas A&M University. “And I think more women have the mindset that they can be scientists. They know it’s possible.”

Dr. Sherry Yennello

Dr. Yennello spoke recently to a group of UD students following her lecture, “Stellar Secrets: Earth Bound Insights into Elements Through Heavy-ion Reactions.” Her visit was part of the Clare Booth Luce Speaker Series, a program designed to attract women into physical science, engineering, and mathematical areas and to support them once there.

Dr. Yennello told students that research experiences are invaluable on a number of levels. “You’ll learn what it’s like to really do research every day,” she said. “And you’ll learn how you function best, whether in a structured environment where a professor gives you explicit instructions, or in an environment like mine, where I give you the big picture, show you the resources, and you have to step up and ask questions.”

Dr. Yennello encouraged students to attend regional and national meetings of groups associated with their majors (like American Chemical Society and American Physical Society) in order to network with their peers. “Students that attend these meetings will tell you what their lives are really like at their REUs and give you a good feel for the way an institution or a department works.” She added that networking at these events creates relationships that can form the basis of not only lifelong scientific collaborations, but also true friendships. “Science is done in groups,” she said. “And you need networks of people to get it done.”

In describing which characteristics students need to be successful, Dr. Yennello emphasized perseverance above any other trait. “Not giving up far outweighs brilliance,” she said. According to Dr. Yennello, high achieving students often get frustrated when their experiments don’t go the way they think they will. “When I’m looking at potential students for REUs, I’m looking for someone who wants to learn, someone who wants to figure out how to overcome errors and mistakes and understands that there isn’t always a straight path to the answer,” she said. Dr. Yennello recommended that students use the personal statements and cover letters with their REU applications to talk about their resilience, curiosity and perseverance when they don’t get an answer on the first try.

Dr. Yennello closed by saying that conducting research is only part of the benefit of an REU: “The real questions are: did you learn something and did you meet people?”

For more information on applying for REUs or other internships, contact OPCD or your department chair.

Alumni Give Advice on Leveraging a Liberal Arts Major

Alumni Give Advice on Leveraging a Liberal Arts Major

For many students, settling on a major is a choice that causes anxiety and quite a bit of hand wringing. Will I learn enough to succeed after graduation? Will I gain the skills I need to get a job?

At a recent panel hosted by the Office of Personal Career Development entitled “You Majored in What?” a group of UD alumni explained to anxious students how the comprehensive liberal arts education they received at UD opened doors and led to opportunities that they would never have thought possible. Below are their responses to questions posed by students, faculty and staff.

Yvonne Freeman
Bob Hyde
Steven Harrell

Matt Victorine
Shannon Doherty

How did your background in liberal arts help you in your career?

Yvonne Freeman (BA Mathematics, 1989), VP of Total Rewards, Michaels: I think people underestimate how effectively liberal arts majors can block and tackle and process problems. There were a lot of things I could’ve done–and my liberal arts degree opened up a lot of possibilities for me. I, personally, would rather hire a liberal arts major because they are better prepared to tackle the unknown.

Bob Hyde (BA Secondary Education, 1975), Senior VP, Bank of Texas: They used to say that BA stood for “didn’t buy anything,” but I disagree. One of my first assignments was to take a 6 page letter that my boss wrote, make it better and reduce it to one page. People with liberal arts degrees focus on the view from 10,00 feet instead of the microscopic view.

Steven Harrell (BA English, 2009), Communications/PR Specialist, Jackson Spaulding: Marketing and communications is really just storytelling. With a liberal arts degree and especially with an English major, you’re really trained to tell stories and to synthesize large swaths of information from an intelligent point of view.

How do you balance the pursuit of education with the pursuit of a specifically liberal education?

Shannon Doherty (BA Psychology, 2013), Business Development Analyst, GM Financial: I had no technical skills when I graduated. But it I had 90 days to get a job or I would be living in my parents’ basement. You have to find a way to gain some hard skills. Chip away at them through summer jobs and internships. That’s one thing I wish I would have done differently.

Matt Victorine (BA History, 1991), VP and Regional Manager, Fidelity Investments: When you apply to a company, learn about all the jobs that they have to offer and figure out what skills you need to get into the job you want. You want to apply to a company that teaches how to do their jobs. I’ve done hundreds of interviews and these days, if you can half-way speak well, you’re advancing to the next round.

Hyde: Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not expected to have a full skill set when you graduate. And macroeconomics are in your favor–there’s a shrinking work force right now. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If an opportunity doesn’t work out, chalk it up to experience. Don’t get caught in analysis paralysis.

Victorine: There’s no better job market in the country right now than Dallas/Fort Worth. It’s a fascinating time if you’re looking to explore different companies. If you’re flexible and nimble, there’s a lot of jobs out there.

Harrell: I wandered in the desert for a good long mile. But I did a lot of freelancing while still at UD and I learned to say “yes” to just about everything as long as it was ethical. Even though I might not be an expert in a particular subject, I at least had some familiarity and could move forward with a little training.

Freeman: We have a saying at Michaels that we hire for attitude and train for skills. If someone can at least carry themselves well, that’s half the battle. As a hiring manager, I know I’m not getting someone with a lot of prior experience, but I know that I can train the right person for the job.

The University of Dallas does not seem to have a high brand recognition, even in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. How have you explained UD to potential employers?

Victorine: It’s important to know your story. Explain to people that UD is a great, small university and tell them why you came here.

Harrell: The lack of recognition can be a negative but it can also be a real positive. You can tell your own story: “Here’s the kind of person I am because I went to UD,” instead of, “Oh, you went to Baylor, I know what you’re all about.”

Doherty: There are a lot of Ivy League grads in the The GE Capital Leadership program that I’m in. But because UD grads have proven themselves so well, there are more and more UD people in the program. UD people want to help UD people.

How did you gain the additional skills you needed to be successful in the job market?

Victorine: Take the first opportunity you can to get in the door of a good company, and then they will train you to do the job they want you to do. Big companies will teach you how to do the job.

Hyde: Think about what you would like to do, and then getting paid is the frosting on the cake. Look for companies that have a future and who are doing something good in the community.

Do you use your major in your job?

Freeman: Math at a liberal arts school is different from math at another college. I feel like I use my ability to think logically every day. I like having problems to solve. I would get bored otherwise.

Hyde: You’ll be surprised–you’ll use your major in unusual ways.

To make an appointment to talk about choosing a major or career field, click here.

 

 

 

 

Students Forming
Women in STEM Club at UD

Students Forming
Women in STEM Club at UD

Why are there so few women in STEM fields and what can we do about it? Last year, students at the University of Dallas decided to tackle those questions head-on by forming a Women in STEM club at UD.

Patricia Hahn and Rebecca Kolbeck

Last spring, Rebecca Kolbeck, a senior biology major, joined a few friends for informal talks about starting a Women in STEM club at UD. “Some of the women who were in the STEM majors and were about to graduate mentored us and encouraged us to think about forming a club,” she said. They started out with a few informal events, including discussions about what the club would look like and even a trip to see the movie Hidden Figures for inspiration. Patricia Hahn, senior biochemistry major, and Tessa Rosenberger, junior physics major, are two other founding members of the group.

As the fall 2017 semester begins, Kolbeck and other members have turned to Dr. Sally Hicks, Chair of the Physics Department, and Dr. Ellen Steinmiller, Associate Professor of Chemistry, as mentors for the club. “We’re really in the formative stages now,” Kolbeck said. “So we’d like to research statistics on women in STEM majors at UD. We’d like to find out if female STEM grads actually go into STEM fields after graduation. And if not, why?”

Kolbeck hopes to eventually bring speakers to campus that can not only inspire young women to pursue STEM careers, but also prepare them for the challenges they might face in the traditionally male-dominated STEM fields. “We’d like to hear from alumni, female professionals, and UD professors about how they overcame the obstacles to being women in STEM,” she said. 

Kolbeck visualizes the Women in STEM Club inspiring the next generation as well. “We’d eventually like to talk about women in STEM fields in a broader sense, including how we, as college students, can motivate high school and middle school girls into pursuing STEM education,” she said.

For more information on women in STEM fields, read the American Association of University Women’s research report on the subject here.

For help in choosing a major or career field, make an appointment with an OPCD career counselor.

 

Resume and Interviewing Tips
from an HR Executive

Resume and Interviewing Tips
from an HR Executive

Julie Allison, HR Executive

Who better to give you advice on your job search  than someone who looks at resumes and conducts interviews all day long? Julie Allison, an Irving-area Human Resources executive for a company that has hired many UD grads, shared some best practices for navigating the hiring process. Here are the highlights.

Job Fairs and on-campus events

  • Networking doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or scripted. It’s just a matter of walking up to someone and saying something like, “Hi. I’m Chris and I’m a student at UD majoring in Business. What do you do?”

Resumes and cover letters

  • If a resume comes across my desk with spelling or grammar mistakes, it goes in the trash.
  • The applicant uses the wrong company name in about 50% of the resumes and cover letters I see.
  • If your resume is short on work experience, highlight your campus and community involvement. This shows me that you are resourceful and adaptable. What I really want to know is what have you accomplished?
  • Your cover letter should state why you are interested in my company and why you think your background is a good fit for the position you’re applying for. Tell me why I should call you in for an interview.

Interviews

  • During an interview, you should be able to articulate what’s on your resume. Be ready to talk about not only your accomplishments, but also how you went about achieving them.
  • Always ask questions after an interview. Thoughtful questions not only show that you’ve prepared, they show that you really want to learn about the company. The right questions will help you figure out if the job is a good fit for you.

Once you land the job

  • When starting a new job or internship, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s OK that you don’t know everything. We don’t assume that you do–and neither should you.

 

 

 

 

 

UD Science Majors Take On Summer Research

UD Science Majors Take On Summer Research

University of Dallas science majors are having an outsized impact at research institutions across the country this summer. Close to 50 students are conducting research, and many of them have been awarded highly competitive positions at external institutions. Others are conducting important research with University of Dallas faculty.

Twelve REUs [Research Experience for Undergraduates], two SURPs [Summer Undergraduate Research Program], two SURFs [Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships], and the quality of the other opportunities represent an outstanding showing for our science majors getting in summer research. Other science majors are doing research with UD faculty.  I think it is probably one of the best years ever for UD students with respect to science research opportunities’” said Dr. Sally Hicks, Chair and Professor of Physics.

Dr. Hicks said that research can be an invaluable part of any science major’s education. “These opportunities allow students to attend a research institution, conduct cutting edge research and learn more about the scientific investigative process,” she said. Dr. Hicks also said that the experience can help students discern whether they want to go to graduate school, become a research scientist, or pursue another path.

MacKenzie Warrens (Physics ‘17), said that her two summer research experiences helped her make big decisions about her future. “My first summer research project showed me what kind of research I don’t want to do,” she said. “But the one before my senior year changed my life. I learned a lot about experimental atomic physics and decided that was what I would pursue in graduate school.”

Dr. William Cody, Assistant Professor of Biology, said that most summer research programs are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with a focus on increasing the number of STEM workers entering the workforce. He added that although strong letters of recommendation and an effective personal statement go a long way in securing one of these positions, another factor is even more important: “Conducting research on campus during the year has the biggest impact,” he said.

Blake Torrance, a Senior Biology major, is spending his summer at the Medical University of South Carolina, conducting research through their SURP program. He said that summer research is the best way to determine if the lifestyle of a professional researcher is the best path for you. “It is a unique experience that has allowed me to develop a passion for basic scientific research and to be solidified in my own career and professional goals,” he said.

And although research opportunities are available across the country, Dr. Hicks said that the programs are very competitive and require a strong application. “There are many students applying from universities like UD that don’t have extensive on-campus research facilities,” she said. “And because even students from top-tier research institutions apply for these posts, it’s not unusual for hundreds of applicants to apply to a program with 8-10 openings.”

Both Warrens and Torrance agreed that although the application requires careful attention, the process is not difficult. “It basically consists of a CV, a personal statement and two or three letters of recommendation,” she said. Torrance said the key is to stay organized: “I actually applied to 11 programs this summer, so it wasn’t too difficult to get them all done, although the key is to be as organized as possible.”

According to Dr. Cody, summer research can show students what a career in science might look like. “When high school students are good at science, everyone tells them they should become a physician,” he said. “But research experiences are a chance for them to explore their love of science and discover the many possibilities to use the knowledge they gain as an undergraduate student to benefit society.”

University of Dallas biology, chemistry, computer science, math and physics majors are working in the following outside research experiences and internships:

  • 12 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)
  • 2 Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)
  • 2 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)

Other prestigious outside research opportunities:

  • Harvard School of Public Health
  • University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Franciscan Institute of World Health, University of Claude Bernard–Lyon, France
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program
  • James Loudspeaker Corporation
  • Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • University of Houston
  • Sonic Corporation
  • MD Anderson Medical Center
  • Whitespace Innovations

Several others are conducting research with UD faculty in a variety of disciplines. For a list of physics research projects, click here.

To make an appointment to speak to a career counselor about your resumé, writing a personal statement or any other career-related questions, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

3 UD Students Embark on Important Internships

3 UD Students Embark on Important Internships

Three University of Dallas students are embarking on amazing internships this summer–two to Rome and one to Brussels. And they learned about these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities by reading emails from the Office of Personal Career Development.

Maureen O’Toole, Teresa Haney, Will McEvoy

Teresa Haney (Politics19) has an accepted a political internship with the Holy See in Rome. “I’ll be doing lots of research into things like the ties between the Vatican and other embassies and countries,” she said.

Maureen O’Toole (Politics ’19) has accepted an internship in political diplomacy with the Holy See. “I’ll be in meetings with diplomats, taking notes, writing updates and briefs, and sending reports back to Washington” she said. “And I’ll also get to make travel arrangements for visitors and attend events.”

Will McEvoy (Economics ‘19) will be a public affairs intern for NATO in Brussels. “I’ll be working at the U.S. Embassy to advocate on behalf of NATO to both European and American citizens. I’ll stay ahead of press briefings and update social media to that end.”

O’Toole said that she believed the Rome experience was one thing that made all of their applications competitive. “We’ve all studied abroad and we won’t be as overwhelmed by the experience,” she said.

McEvoy agreed. “My interviewer told me I was one of the only candidates who had visited more than two countries. I’ve been to twelve, many of them NATO countries, so I mentioned that it in my personal statement.” The person who ultimately hired McEvoy also told him that the style of his writing in his personal statement stood out. “She said it was not written like a typical research paper.”

Haney said she thinks her internship at the Vatican will help her discern if politics is right for her. “Attending UD has instilled lofty ideals in me about social justice,” she said. “I’m looking forward to discerning if public policy work will help me achieve those ideals.”

O’Toole said the internship in Rome is her dream job. “I’m interested in political journalism so being in Rome will help me discern if this is my path.”

McEvoy said he has always been interested in NATO as a way to promote peace and achieve the lofty ideals that O’Toole speaks of, albeit from a different perspective. He also said that although not being paid for the internship presents a challenge, it makes the experience all the more worthwhile. “I believe that voluntarily serving your country shows your commitment to your ideals. You have to make sacrifices in order to achieve your goals.”

Julie Jernigan, Director of UD’s Office of Personal Career Development, wants to remind students that there are other amazing internships available: “UD students are uniquely competitive for high-level and international positions. So read the emails we send you!”

For more information of internships or to make an appointment with a career counselor, click here.

UD Professors Address Human Dignity: Part Two

UD Professors Address Human Dignity: Part Two

This is the second post in a series based on the event “UD Interdisciplinary Celebration of Human Dignity,” held March 23, 2017.

How does the University of Dallas curriculum encourage us to live in community? A panel of UD professors addressed the question, joining a conversation with students, other faculty, staff and alumni about the call to preserve human dignity regardless of race, country of origin, gender, religion or beliefs.

Dr. John Norris, Associate Provost, introduced the panel and topic. “At UD, although we promote the search for truth, there are still prejudices and pride, both inside our community and out,” he said. “A guiding question, then, is how can we show humble respect for the viewpoint of the other without falling into the trap of a relativistic morality?” Norris said that each panel member would reflect on how they approach human dignity in their classrooms.

Dr. Robert Kuglemann

Dr. Robert Kuglemann, Professor of Psychology, reflected during his talk on our treatment of others in relation to ourselves. “Jung said that liberal arts provides sustenance to the soul,” Kuglemann said. “But that doesn’t lead us away from nationalistic egoism.”

Kuglemann said that Jung was concerned with a tendency to confuse the nation with the individual and that intense patriotism and collectivism that eclipses the individual brings about a separation of others who do not fit into the collective.

“Are we safe from collectivism?” Kuglemann asked. In answer, he acknowledged that at UD, there is a sense of superiority over people who are not here. “Sometimes we discount the opinions of others because of this feeling of being correct,” he said. This feeling of “rightness” is evident in that fact that what we can’t see in ourselves, we can easily see in others. “We’ll say about ourselves, ‘We’re fighting the good fight,’ but about others, ‘They are irrational,’” Kuglemann said.

In order to fight this kind of collectivist superiority, Kuglemann said that we must gain self-knowledge of our own motivations. “We must pay attention to what fascinates us,” he said. “Are we looking for stories that reinforce our beliefs, like violence in immigrant neighborhoods or terrorism? This preserves our feeling of our own innocence. We want to know that we’re ignorant of our own complicity with evil.”

For more information about OPCD or to register for events, click here.

UD Professors Address Human Dignity

UD Professors Address Human Dignity

This is the first post in a series based on the event “UD Interdisciplinary Celebration of Human Dignity,” held March 23, 2017.

How does the University of Dallas curriculum encourage us to live in community? A panel of UD professors addressed the question, joining a conversation with students, other faculty, staff and alumni about the call to preserve human dignity regardless of race, country of origin, gender, religion or beliefs.

Dr. John Norris, Associate Provost, introduced the panel and topic. “At UD, although we promote the search for truth, there are still prejudices and pride, both inside our community and out,” he said. “A guiding question, then, is how can we show humble respect for the viewpoint of the other without falling into the trap of a relativistic morality?” Norris said that each panel member would reflect on how they approach human dignity in their classrooms.

Dr. Eileen Gregory

Dr. Eileen Gregory, Professor of English, began her talk by acknowledging that it is the privilege of college campuses nationwide to reflect upon and discuss polarizing subjects, like immigration and refugees, that have surfaced a result of the extreme negativity of last year’s political campaign. “This kind of reflection cultivates in us a reflective life,” she said. “And reflection is our true work. We must learn that ideas have consequences.”

Gregory’s talk focused on welcoming the stranger, a foundational tenet of nearly all societies and religions and one that is reflected in the literature of UD’s Core Curriculum. “The notion of hospitality prohibiting the mistreatment of the stranger was protected by divine law for both the Greeks and the Jews,” she said. “It wasn’t just a matter of right, but the highest form of justice.”

But why was this hospitality so important to society? According to Gregory, to be pitiless to the stranger is to exhibit hubris in forgetting one’s own vulnerability. “The Odyssey is the great text of hospitality,” she said. “Characters reiterate again and again that if you violate the laws of hospitality, you are inhuman. Hospitality to strangers is a defining fundamental of humanity.”

The great literary works also show the poverty and vulnerability of the human condition, as well as our dependence on others. “We don’t like to imagine ourselves as dependent,” Gregory said. “Everything in our culture holds up self-sufficiency and imperviousness to feeling as the ultimate aim.” But although we would prefer to confront the world as if we are invulnerable, that self-sufficiency is an illusion. According to Gregory, this is reason for welcoming the stranger: to do is to acknowledge the precariousness of our existence and our true human fragility.

For more information about OPCD events or to RSVP, click here.

The Road Less Traveled: UD English Majors Talk About Various Paths to Success

The Road Less Traveled: UD English Majors Talk About Various Paths to Success

University of Dallas students often hear the remark, “You can do anything with a liberal arts degree.” But what exactly does that mean? A panel of UD alumni, all English majors, spoke on Friday, February 21, to a group of students about how they translated their degrees into successful careers and graduate studies.

Panelist Michael Traylor parlayed his degree into a career as a landman, a job that CNN Money calls the third best America. “I didn’t really have a big plan when I was a senior,” Traylor said. “I kept looking around for the perfect unicorn job.” Although some of Traylor’s friends had decided on law school, he wasn’t so sure. He eventually got job researching property rights and leases for oil and gas drilling. “It’s like lawyer-lite,” Traylor said. “I read deeds all day, and businesses rely on my interpretation of them.” A job as a landman might not be on every senior’s radar, but it is an example of one of myriad positions available to not only UD English majors, but to liberal arts majors in general. “Your education prepares you to do anything,” Traylor said, “But narrowing that down can be a difficult process.”

John Corrales, Social Media Editor for the New York Times, said he was idealistic but certainly not deliberate when he was a senior English major: “I had these vaguely romantic ambitions, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.” After graduation Corrales moved back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas and got a job working for the local newspaper. After realizing this wasn’t for him, he wandered about a bit trying different jobs until he finally reached out to a friend’s cousin, who helped him land a job at the New York Times. “You really have to trust yourself,” Corrales said. “You make your own luck. You just have to want it.” And as far as the job he left Odessa, Corrales encouraged students to take a job that’s it’s in front of them, even if it’s something they don’t necessarily like. “You’ll learn something from every experience,” he said.

Seth Gonzalez, videographer and Staff Writer for The Texas Catholic newspaper, also changed jobs a few times before settling in his current position. “You have to bring something to the table,” he said. “You can’t just say that you are passionate about something without bringing some kind of skill related to it. Develop your skills on your own time if you have to.” Seth agreed with Corrales that individuals make their own luck: “Someone told me once that failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Maria Walley has taken the entrepreneurial route as the co-founder and marketing director of Kandid.ly, a fledgling digital marketplace for photographers. “It’s kind of like Etsy for amateur photographers.” Walley said that liberal arts majors can have success in just about any field because they think differently than those graduates who have more specialized skills. “Instead of just learning a process, we’re trained to think about the process from the outside,” she said.

Megan Wadle, who taught middle school before pursuing PhD work at Southern Methodist University, said that although it’s sometimes difficult to narrow down career possibilities, the naïveté of not knowing one’s limits can be a good thing. “Sometimes, you sign up for things that are really too much for you, but you learn as you go,” she said.

Nate McCabe, also a graduate student at SMU said that he had to make a conscious decision to be aggressive in pursuing his goal of getting into graduate school. “I got waitlisted by SMU and was working as a barista. I decided that I had to go harder to get the door open,” he said. “I started emailing professors. I had just about given up, but as soon as I closed the door on graduate school, I got the call from SMU that I got in.” Nathan said that although he doesn’t get much choice in what he studies, he got a good piece of advice from UD’s Dr. Greg Roper that keeps him going. “You have to suffer the 90% you don’t like to get to do the 10% that you do,” he said.

In closing, the panelists each offered practical advice for soon-to-be graduates:
Corrales: Find an internship. Gain some sort of useful skill–it’ll make you unstoppable.
Gonzalez: Develop an insatiable appetite. Dig into what you’re passionate about.
Traylor: Find the person who has the job you want and find out how they got there.
Walley: Meet with people to learn about different careers. And surround yourself with people who lift you up.
Wadle: Talk to someone who’s actually in the profession you’re interested in. Nobody knows it better than they do.
McCabe: Don’t just analyze information. Learn to synthesize it.

To make an appointment to meet with an OPCD counselor, click here.

Discern Experience Achieve Event: Dr. Craig Gundersen-Food Insecurity in the US

Discern Experience Achieve Event: Dr. Craig Gundersen-Food Insecurity in the US

Although it’s not hard for most of us to imagine the implications of poverty in general, the complex issue of food insecurity has its own set of disturbing consequences that must be addressed. That’s according to Dr. Craig Gundersen, who spoke on October 12 to a group of students at the University of Dallas in a presentation entitled “Addressing Food Insecurity in the United States: A Catholic Economist’s Perspective.” Dr. Gundersen is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agriculture Strategy in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois and the Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory.

Dr. Craig Gundersen
Dr. Craig Gundersen

Aside from the fact that he believes Catholics are called to feed the hungry, Gundersen said that there are several reasons for studying food insecurity in the United States. “There are definite negative health benefits associated with food insecurity,” he said. “These represent serious consequences.”

Gundersen added that food insecurity is not completely characterized by income. “Since 10-15% of non-poor households are food insecure, we need to study why this issue transcends income boundaries,” he said. Gundersen argued that because the central goal of the USDA is to alleviate food insecurity, economists must study in detail the causes and outcomes of the problem in order to make sure the USDA is a good steward of its $100 billion budget.

Researchers like Gundersen use a survey called the Core Food Security Module to measure an individual’s level of food insecurity. It consists of eighteen questions such as “I worried whether I would run out of food before I had money to buy more” and “My child was unable to eat for an entire day because I did not have enough money for food.” Affirmative responses to three or more questions on the module result in a determination that a person is food insecure.

Gundersen indicated that although he trusts the survey’s integrity, there could possibly be times when a parent might be particularly concerned with admitting his or her children were hungry. “I’ve heard about parents breaking down while taking the survey because they were devastated that they couldn’t feed their kids,” he said. “And some might even be afraid that Child Protective Services might be called.”

Even in good economic times, there is food insecurity in the U.S. According to Gundersen, economic downturns like the Great Recession greatly increase these levels. In fact, a sharp increase in food insecurity levels from 2007-2008 predated the official start of the recession. “Food insecurity levels did not begin decreasing from their highs until 2014,” Gundersen said. “And they have still not returned to their pre-recession levels.”

Gundersen said that statistical models have shown that there are several determinants of food insecurity when other factors are accounted for. One determinant that is having a non-working teenager in the house. “Teenagers working outside of school can be a double-edged sword,” Gundersen said. “While their incomes may help the family pay expenses, their schoolwork may suffer in the process.” Other determinants that make food insecurity more likely include living in households where there is a single parent or where a parent is incarcerated, and even the season. “Summer is predictably a time of food insecurity because children are not receiving free or reduced price breaksfasts or lunches,” he said.

Gundersen explained that although SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, is a large investment on the part of our country, the program is achieving its stated goal of alleviating food insecurity. “Not all federal programs are successful,” he said. “But this one is.”

For more information about the University of Dallas Office of Personal Career Development, click here.