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Collaborative Efforts of College of Business Students and Stony Brook Dietary Interns Work Towards Healthier Eating Among College Students

Developing ways to help busy college students make healthier meal choices is the subject of a multi-disciplinary project involving the Stony Brook University’s College of Business, the Clinical Nutrition Intern Program, the Faculty Student Association (FSA), and Campus Dining.   What makes the project especially unique is that it is being conducted on the Stony Brook campus, in sequential steps over several years, entirely by graduate and undergraduate students as part of formal class and intern projects. 

The idea for the project developed in a Fall 2012 Advertising class in the College of Business, taught by Camille Abbruscato, in which students were assigned term projects to help FSA and Campus Dining identify ways to increase the utilization of the residential food court in Roth Quad.  In their focus group studies to identify critical customer preferences for different food offerings on campus, the students found a recurring perception among campus consumers that the healthier food options are perceived as being both more expensive and less convenient than popular branded “fast foods”. This observation was consistent with results of national studies on consumer food preferences and led to the students suggesting that a future project should focus on developing healthier meal options that could be marketed to successfully compete with popular fast food brands in a busy university dining environment, such as Roth Food Court

FSA then enlisted the support of Dr. Josephine Connolly Schoonen and Leah Holbrook of the Clinical Nutrition Internship Program in the Department of Family Medicine, who agreed to assign a group of their graduate student interns to work with Campus Dining Executive Chef John Hutchinson in developing healthy meal options for further study.  The criteria, based on the observations from the previous student focus groups, was that the new menu items had to be similar in pricing and convenience as the most popular fast food choices sold at the Wendy’s in Roth Food Court, while also being “healthier” by three widely recognized criteria: lower saturated fat, higher in dietary fiber, and fewer calories.  

The new menu items included baked sweet potato wedges, as healthier alternative to popular French fries, and chicken kabobs as an alternative to chicken nuggets  They were introduced at S3 Fusion and Roth Market, located adjacent to the Roth Cafeteria Wendy’s franchise.  At that point, the Leah Holbrook and the Dietary Interns presented their findings to a Spring 2013 undergraduate Marketing Research class, taught by Denise Buhrau, as the basis for a continuing study on consumer reactions to the new products, relative to the popular, but less healthy, fast food brand alternatives.  The problem presented to Dr. Buhrau’s students was to help FSA and Campus Dining make the healthier meal alternatives more appealing to college age customers, using Marketing Research techniques they were learning in the class.   Among the stated desirable outcomes was that the results would serve as the basis for their reasoned recommendations and could be implemented in Roth Food Court as the basis for another round of assessment and further healthier menu improvement by future classes.

The long term objective, as envisioned by Kevin Kelly, FSA’s Executive Director, is to use the University’s academic resources to conduct marketing research and focused product improvement for developing popular, healthy meal choices on campus.  It would allow FSA and Campus Dining access to the same concerted methodology and applied research that is used by national fast food chains to create new menu items that are extremely popular among college age customers, but often not based in sound nutrition.

The project also provides students participating in the project with the opportunity “to apply  classroom learning to practical issues that benefit Stony Brook students and the campus overall”, according to Manny London, Dean of the College of Business.

FSA and faculty participating in the project hope that the practical experience will pay off for students in other ways as well, especially after they graduate.  A majority of employers interested in hiring recent college graduates had difficulty finding candidates qualified to fill available positions, according to a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and reported in its March 4 edition.  Many of the employers cited graduates’ deficiency in “basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems”.   As an example of how these concerns are being addressed at Stony Brook University, Dr. Buhrau’s students are learning to adapt the knowledge they acquire from their Marketing Research lectures and textbook to the specific problem of developing healthier menu items that are popular among busy college students.  Using a carefully prepared survey, they will collect data on attitudes towards healthier foods in the general student population and on reasons why students make specific meal choices on campus.   Under Buhrau’s guidance, the students will analyze the results in small groups and make their recommendations to FSA in formal presentations.

These recommendations will guide class and independent study projects in the further development of healthier meal options, which are being planned for the 2013-14 Academic Year.

About the College of Business:

The Stony Brook College of Business focuses on research, teaching, and the application of innovation and excellence by emphasizing a cross-disciplinary, global approach to business while giving students the experiences and training needed to become business leaders after graduation. By helping students to apply their skills to real issues around campus, the College of Business works to give students the opportunities to obtain a great education while fortifying their resumes with practical application to their learning.

About the Faculty Student Association:

The Stony Brook Faculty Student Association (FSA) is the University’s not-for-profit auxiliary services corporation that operates $71 million of campus businesses and services.  FSA operates with no State support and generates revenues to a variety of programs and services, as well as to fund major capital improvements in support of the educational, health care, and outreach missions of the University.  Over the past five years, FSA has provided funding for over $15 million in capital improvements, $4 million in University program support, $3.5 million in student employment, and $600,000 in student scholarships.

About the Dietetic Internship Program:

The Stony Brook Dietetic Internship program, in the Department of Family Medicine, is a program with an emphasis on teaching its interns progressive nutrition recommendations based on best evidence to support good health, reduce disease, and sustainable food systems.

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