This blog post highlights the work of two funded MCH trainees from the University of Tennessee, Marissa Black and Marissa McElrone. Black (left) has been a funded MCH Nutrition Leadership, Education and Training Program trainee since January 2018, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition. McElrone (right), a funded MCH trainee since January 2016, is a PhD candidate pursing her doctoral degree in Community Nutrition. This blog post discusses their involvement in a recent university-wide, public policy challenge. Black was an enrolled student on the Public Health Nutrition Policy Team, while McElrone offered teaching and mentoring as a teaching assistant for the course/challenge.
Fresh Food for All: Improving Local MCH through Policy
The Howard Baker Center Grand Policy Challenge (HBCGPC) started in 2013, as a practical experience for University of Tennessee students to address real issues in their communities and beyond, through public policy engagement. The HBCGPC, based on the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute Policy Challenge, required students to identify, research and analyze an issue, identify and engage stakeholders, critically think as a team, and develop innovative solutions through policy. The Public Health Nutrition Policy Team’s policy, Fresh Food for All, focused on improving the 2018 WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) redemption rates in Knox County, Tennessee.
Marissa Black: Participating in the policy challenge was a rewarding experience that helped me apply the basics of policy development to an issue affecting our local MCH population. Our team consisted of students with different research interests in the fields of Public Health and Nutrition. Some members studied food insecurity, others researched gardening programs, and one member was an actual farmer who had participated in the FMNP the previous year! Having a stakeholder in our team made it easier to build connections with other stakeholders, and gave us a unique perspective on the issue.
In the beginning stages of our policy brief development, our team met with local stakeholders including WIC educators, farmers market representatives, and food policy council-members to negotiate the terms of the policy. It was exciting to bring together an inter-professional group of people with different roles in the community who were all passionate about improving the lives of WIC families. The policy challenge helped me develop skills in critical thinking, negotiation, interdisciplinary team building, and of course policy and advocacy!
The Fresh Food for All policy group presenting at the Nutrition Education Discourse at the University of Tennessee
Marissa McElrone: During my first year of graduate school, I participated in the HBCGPC as a student enrolled in the public health nutrition policy course. My policy team’s brief entitled Feed the Garden Feed the Kids, focused on an innovative approach to incorporate urban agriculture into the USDA Summer Feeding Programs of Knoxville, Tennessee. The experience helped develop my knowledge and understanding of the policy process and how it impacts MCH populations. The experiential learning of the HBCGPC fostered critical thinking, team building, and pushed me to think of innovative ways to improve the lives of MCH populations through policy. Currently, as the teaching assistant for the public health nutrition policy course, I have the opportunity to develop and mentor other students through the same process. Not only am I strengthening the skills I fostered as an enrolled student, but I am now able to help develop others in these same leadership competencies.