Spring 2014 Magazine - Immaculata University - page 16

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I MMA C U L ATA MA G A Z I N E * S P R I N G 2 0 1 4
food for
THOUGHT
M
elanie Kisthardt, Ph.D., is adding a
twist to her freshman composition
class this year. As a focus for her
students’ writing assignments, Kisthardt, associate
professor and chair of the English/Communica-
tion Department, chose poverty as the theme
of the course. She also added a service-learning
component, sending students to the West Chester
Food Cupboard where she volunteers twice a
month, and involving them in organizing an
Empty Bowls event, a fundraising dinner for the
food cupboard.
The students’ first assignment was to write
about their neighborhoods—whether they include
a mix of ages and races, how well neighbors know
each other, whether shopping centers are close by,
how frequently crime occurs—and analyze what
these characteristics imply. “Look at your neigh-
borhood with the eyes of a researcher,” Kisthardt
told the class. “What goes into our environment
that helps make us the way we are?”
Kisthardt then had students look at their
neighborhoods on two websites, a food access
research atlas and a map of average income and
rent throughout the U.S. One student lives in an
area with lots of industrial parks, which indicates
plenty of employment opportunities, Kisthardt
pointed out. Another lives in an area with aban-
doned houses where a supermarket is just now
being built, which suggests a less stable population
and lower access to healthy food.
This exercise is not just about finding infor-
mation, but understanding and interpreting it,
Kisthardt emphasized. “You can’t just throw data
into a research paper. You have to explain to the
audience why it’s relevant,” she told her students.
“You make meaning out of the facts that you’re
finding.”
After the class was over, Kisthardt explained
that her students are “learning how to write better,
because they are being investigative reporters.”
Her goal is to help students “to think about think-
ing” as they grapple with the issues of hunger and
poverty through readings and observations.
Kisthardt is pleased to see how her class is
engaging with the material so far. One student ap-
preciates that the food cupboard calls its custom-
ers “clients,” because he thinks it allows them to
maintain their sense of dignity. “He’s starting to
think about what you call people,” Kisthardt said,
“and that really impacts how you think about them.”
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