Food for thought

The project: Rebecca Leighton, ’15 B.S., who will finish her master’s degree in public health nutrition in the fall of 2017, is working with fellow students to grow 1,300 pounds of fresh vegetables for Nutritious U, the student food pantry she established this year.

The problem: Leighton discovered that, according to a Boynton Health Service survey, 10 percent of U of M students experience food shortages and almost 18 percent worry about running out of food.

What Leighton did: She interviewed students who talked about skipping meals or using strategies such as staying as motionless as possible during the day to fight hunger. “Students are being resourceful and making ends meet, but some of these strategies were pretty alarming,” she says.

A solution: Leighton applied for and received a grant from the Minnesota Student Association to purchase healthy food for two distribution pilots. She expected to serve about 400 students over three days during the first pilot and was shocked when 491 showed up on the first day alone. The pantry ran out of food and had to close early. The second pilot—which was funded by the grant, various donors, a local church, and Boynton—resulted in 927 students collectively receiving 6,000 pounds of food.

Why her work matters: “I used to think hunger was just a problem overseas, but I’ve realized that we have hunger here in our city and on our campus,” Leighton says. “Everyone deserves healthy food, not just people who were born into privilege.”


  • Sarah Schulz in Bell Museum under construction
    Construction management major Sarah Schulz has worked on U of M projects like the new Bell Museum.
  • Student in College of Design library
    Noah Exum is grateful for scholarships that allowed him to pursue his passion for interior design.
  • Students harvesting vegetables
    With their hands in the soil, U of M students learn about food, farming, and sustainability.
  • Dad holding his son on his shoulders
    An East Coast couple finds hope for their son at the University of Minnesota.