Using experiential education to explore changes in students' perceptions toward those experiencing poverty and food insecurity



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The purpose of this exploratory mixed methods research study was to examine the impact of an undergraduate short-term experiential learning nutrition course on influencing students’ perceptions toward individuals experiencing poverty and food insecurity (FI). The Undergraduate Perception of Poverty Tracking Survey (UPPTS), a 39-item Likert-scale survey instrument, was the tool used to measure perception toward poverty among the participants. Higher scores on the UPPTS indicate less-than-positive views of and a lack of empathy for the poor. A lower score indicates a more positive and empathetic view of poverty. Student reflection journals were also collected and used to assess themes, further filling in any gaps within perception that the UPPTS may not have assessed. The secondary purpose of this research was to assess the overall undergraduate students’ perceptions of poverty and the incidence of FI at a private elite university in Texas and further determine if there was a relationship between the UPPTS and demographics, financial aid status, and food security status within the target population. Subjects included a convenience and snowball sampling of undergraduate students attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, during the 2022 academic school year. Three surveys were combined into one questionnaire for participants to complete: (a) UPPTS, (b) U.S. Department of Agriculture Household Food Security Survey Module (USDA HFSSM), and (c) self-identified demographics (age, gender, ethnicity/race, class status, school/college, financial aid status, type of high school attended, religious affiliation, and family household income). A paired samples t test was performed to test pre-course perception scores to post-course perception scores following the short-term course. Results indicated that after taking an experiential learning nutrition course, students’ scores on the UPPTS indicated a more favorable and empathetic view toward those experiencing poverty. Thematic analysis from student reflection journals indicated greater awareness of structural attributions toward poverty, increased empathy toward poverty, increased knowledge and understanding toward poverty issues, and increased intention to advocate for those experiencing poverty. For the total undergraduate sample, UTTPS total scores were slightly higher compared to the instrument mean scores, thus indicating a more unfavorable perception toward those experiencing poverty. In assessing food security, based on the frequency analysis of the total participants, roughly 23% of the undergraduate sample was considered food insecure. Lastly, a multiple regression analysis was used to assess the relationship between the UPPTS and demographics, financial aid status, and food security status within the target population. There was no significant relationship between age, class status, school/college, financial aid status, high school, religious affiliation, and food security status on UPPTS scores. Of the predictors, sex, race, and income were significant. Females were noted to view poverty more favorably compared to males, Black/African Americans held more favorable views compared to non-Black/African Americans, and students with a household income less than $80,000/year also noted a more favorable view of those experiencing poverty. The short-term experiential nutrition course offered insight to the impact of experiential learning techniques on influencing perceptions and misconceptions regarding poverty within the undergraduate population at private elite universities. Data from the total undergraduate sample were used to obtain a better understanding of undergraduate perceptions toward poverty and offer recommendations and implications on future course development within the sample population. Lastly, FI data were used to contribute to the body of literature assessing FI on private universities, and further inform private elite universities of the incidence of FI on campus.



Experiential education, Food insecurity, Perception, University