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W'Engage to tackle food insecurity in NC and New Orleans

W'Engage to tackle food insecurity in NC and New Orleans

Wingate sophomores looking to live out the University’s “Faith, Knowledge, Service” motto via a domestic travel program will have a chance this spring to tackle a problem that affects 1 in 8 Americans — food insecurity.

Two W’Engage classes — one headed to New Orleans, Louisiana, and another that will split its travel between the Tar Heel cities of Boone and Asheville — will approach the issue from different angles.

Designed for sophomores who are ready for more experiential learning, W’Engage offers students an opportunity to explore a topic in a weekly 50-minute class, travel to serve a community dealing with the issue they’re studying, and then bring back what they’ve learned to help their neighbors with the same problem.

For many, the semester-long, two credit-hour class is a jumping off point for a life-altering travel and service experience.

“It was eye-opening to hear stories from people my age who are living a completely different life than me,” says Alishia Breland, who traveled to New York City with W’Engage last spring to learn about LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. “To get to travel and experience what you’re learning about — it’s a rare opportunity.”

Women stack food in a warehouse.

A W'engage team sorts supplies at a food bank.

Alex Williams, who was in the same W’Engage class, says the experience helped her “hear from real people, to put a face to the story.”

For Beth Butner, traveling to New York in 2017 was a stretch that left her family a bit nervous.

“But college is a time to try new things,” she says. “This course — the readings, class discussions, the travel experience in New York City and our work with Time Out Youth here in Charlotte, opened my eyes to the issues that lead to LGBTQ+ homelessness.”

Senior Harrison Taylor considers W’Engage one of his best Wingate memories.

“W’Engage educated me in a way no book can,” Taylor says.

It’s that beyond-the-book experience that makes W’Engage work, according to Arielle Greenwald, Wingate’s director of community engaged learning.

“If students are excited about service and connecting truly meaningful service to their academic pursuits, this is the program for them,” Greenwald says. “Our end goal for W’Engage is a long-lasting impact for students and a reciprocal impact for the communities they are serving.”

Faculty members leading the courses get to share their passions, not only in an academic setting, but with a true “boots-on-the-ground” mission.

For Erika Niland, associate biology professor, that means plowing into the issue of sustainable agriculture and food security within urban and rural communities. Her class, which will meet Fridays at 1 p.m., will be well-versed on state and federal initiatives to reduce food insecurity before heading to Boone to take part in Appalachian State University’s Waste Not project. They’ll eat at F.A.R.M. Cafe (Feeding All Regardless of Means) and serve with F.A.R.M Full Circle, a volunteer-driven food recovery organization that uses ugly produce to create meals for the cafe and meal-kits for nonprofits serving the food-insecure population.

Then, students will use what they’ve learned to develop and implement solutions for student food waste at Wingate and to help increase sustainable food access for the University’s Union County neighbors.

Niland’s W’Engage course, called “Waste Not: Sustainable Approaches to Farming, Food Waste, and Food Insecurity,” will also include a trip to Asheville to check out the farm-to-table movement in the “Paris of the South.”

Meanwhile, Heather Clontz, associate professor of chemistry, will have her crew exploring New Orleans, home to jazz, Mardi Gras and riverboat cruises, but also a city where nearly one in four residents is food insecure. In addition to learning about the history of New Orleans and the long-lasting impacts of Hurricane Katrina, Clontz’s class will work shoulder-to-shoulder with established community organizations that wage the war on hunger every day.

Clontz’s course, “Neighbor’s Keeper: Food Access & Insecurity in Union County & New Orleans” will also include a local service component as students team with Heart for Monroe’s ongoing efforts to help reduce the percentage of food-insecure households in our region. The class will meet Mondays at 4 p.m.

Both W’Engage classes will travel March 9-13, 2019. Each involves a fee ($100 to $150) to help offset expenses.

Greenwald says any student who finds the cost of a W’Engage course prohibitive should contact her via email at

A line of college students stand in a marsh passing a net of oyster shells.

    W'engage students help build an oyster shell living wall.

To take part in this spring’s program, sophomores must have completed at least 24 credit hours by the beginning of the spring semester and must have a cumulative GPA of 2.3.

“If they have met these criteria, we will do everything possible to help them access the course,” says Greenwald. “Students tell us that, often, the most impactful experiences they have in college are those where they get to apply what they’re learning to real-life situations; connecting the classroom to the community. So we want as many sophomores as possible to take advantage of W’Engage.”

She said it’s no coincidence that the program is placed in the second-year, between Gateway 101, where students learn to identify and use campus resources and develop critical relationships to help them navigate their coursework, and W’International, Wingate’s signature study-abroad program.

Megan Watson, a W’Engage veteran who traveled to the Outer Banks to study eco-justice and sustainability in 2016, says second-year students should view it as “the sophomore counterpart to W’international.”

“It’s a chance to experience what you’re learning in real life,” Watson says.

The spring course schedule will become available Friday. Registration will open Oct. 23.

Oct. 11, 2018

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Chuck Gordon
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(704) 233-6647