Courtesy of the Dyson School

Dejah Powell ’18, a Societal Solutions Scholar, sits with Prof. Nancy Chau, applied economics and management.

March 13, 2018

Societal Solutions Scholar Challenges Chicago Food Insecurity

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Dejah Powell ’18 received $5,000 in funding last spring from a Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management program, which will allow her to improve a school garden in Chicago.

After presenting her innovative ideas relating to food insecurity in urban areas, specifically in Chicago, a panel of professors selected her as one of the Dyson School’s Societal Solutions Scholars.

“Being a Dyson Societal Solutions Scholar means having access to people who are invested and supportive of your ideas,” Powell said. “It’s really great to know that someone sees something in your idea.”

Prof. Nancy Chau, applied economics and management, chair of the Societal Solutions Scholars program selection committee, said the program works with individual students’ needs and project ideas by pairing students with targeted internship opportunities, entrepreneurial mentorship or one-on-one faculty mentorship. The program also provides seed funding for promising innovations.

Chau described Powell’s proposal as “very strong” and “on a timely issue.”

“She has interned with an urban farm in Chicago, and thus she possesses a very relevant set of experiences and skills,” Chau said. “Her latest proposal to start an elementary school garden is excellent.”

Powell hopes to use the funding from the program to continue her work from last summer where she worked with a team of volunteers to plant the Vanderpoel community garden at her elementary school on the south side of Chicago.

“The funding for the Dyson’s Societal Solutions Scholar program will further be used to develop the Vanderpoel School Garden,” Powell said. “This summer, we’d like to get a farmer’s stand going.”

In addition to the garden, Powell started Get Them to the Green, a non-profit organization that encourages minority students to learn about environmental science.

“I think we need a more diverse and multifaceted environmental movement if we are going to make change,” she said.

While Powell has done impactful work, she knows there is more to be done.

“I wholeheartedly understand that while gardens are great, that’s not the solution to these broader structural problems,” she said in an email to The Sun, referring to food insecurity and the lack of environmental education in low-income communities.  “I’m actually writing about this in my thesis, of what actual change will and could look like and what we need to do to get there.”

Powell said she submitted a proposal for additional funding of up to $15,000.

After graduation, Powell will be working for a non-profit consulting group called “Civic Consulting Alliance” in her hometown of Chicago. She also expects to continue her work with Get Them to the Green, as well as expand her community outreach efforts.